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Modelling environmental impacts of treated municipal wastewater reuse for tree crops irrigation in the Mediterranean coastal region

Moretti, M., Van Passel, S., Camposeo, S., Pedrero, F., Dogot, T., Lebailly, P., Vivaldi, G.A.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.660 pp. 1513-1521
Monte Carlo method, acidification, climate change, coasts, crops, data collection, ecosystems, environmental impact, environmental performance, eutrophication, fertilizers, freshwater, humans, irrigation, life cycle assessment, municipal wastewater, nectarines, orchards, surface water, toxicity, trees, uncertainty, wastewater treatment, water analysis, water footprint, water reuse, water shortages, water stress
Wastewater reuse provides valuable solutions to solve the societal challenges of decreasing availability and limiting access to secure water resources. The present study quantifies the environmental performance of nectarine orchards irrigation using treated municipal wastewater (TMW) and surface water using a unique dataset based on field experimental data. Climate change, toxicity (for human and freshwater), eutrophication (marine and freshwater) and acidification impacts were analysed using the impact assessment method suggested by the International Reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD). The water footprint associated to the life cycles of each system has been estimated using the Available WAter REmaining (AWARE) method. Monte Carlo simulation was used to assess data uncertainty. The irrigation of nectarine orchards using TMW performs better than the irrigation using surface water for eutrophication impact categories. Compared with surface water resources, the potential impacts of TMW reuse in agriculture on climate change and toxicity are affected by the wastewater treatment phase (WWT). Only eutrophication and acidification burdens are generated by in-field substitution of surface water with TMW. Considering human and ecosystem water demand, the irrigation with TMW increases water consumption of 19.12 m3 per kg of nectarine produced. Whereas, it shows a positive contribution to water stress (−0.19 m3) if only human water demand is considered. This study provides important results that allow for a better understanding of the potential environmental consequences of TMW reuse in agriculture. It suggests that embracing the type of WWTs, the replacement of fertilizers, the effects on water scarcity and ecosystem quality might be useful to redefine water reuse regulations and increase public acceptance for the reuse of TMW in agriculture. Moreover, this study reveals the need for developing consensus and standardized guidance for life cycle analysis of water reuse applications.