Assoc. Prof. Dr. Stefan Shilev (Agricultural University of Plovdiv) is interviewed for one of the most readable media in the agricultural sector – BGFARMER. The theme of the publication is water reuse in agriculture and was issued on 20 May 2020 under the title We lack incentives for water reuse in agriculture and for 6 days it received 4500 reads.
The articles explains the benefits of irrigation with treated water and the aims of the research project SUWANU EUROPE, encouraging the state and the business in the direction of water reuse in agriculture.
When asked how much this is a concern for the Bulgarian farmer and what decisions are facing him, the expert gives examples from Spain, Malta, and Cyprus that are experiencing the so-called water stress. It is expressed by the water exploitation index (WEI+), calculated on the basis of the availability and use of fresh water for a specified season or year. Values of over 20% indicate water stress. So far, Bulgaria shows relatively favorable indicators compared to the South-European situation.
However, the disadvantage in our country is that there is an uneven distribution of freshwater resources. First, 75% of their water abstraction goes to industrial needs. Second, while Northern Bulgaria can rely on the external tributary of the Danube River, which accounts for the largest share of freshwater availability - 80%, the southern parts of the country lack such a "supplier". That is why a complete revision of our water resources and their use is needed, says Assoc. Prof. Shilev.
Much of the locally generated resources are depleted in the summer, relying mainly on low-flow freshwater. Especially in the Upper Thracian lowland - more precisely the East Aegean River Basin region, where in summer water stress values of 23-24% are reached. Combined with the fact that irrigation costs are increasing, it is understandable, but not justified, that some farmers resort to illegal water abstractions.
And while we are not experiencing serious water shortages like other countries, efforts must be made from now on, because hot and dry summers will become more frequent. And a clear example of Assoc. Prof. Shilev points to 2017, when renewable freshwater resources decreased by 18.5% of the average annual value. And the forecasts are that by 2050 the fresh water in our country will decrease by about 10% or even 20%.
ON TWO PROBLEMS - ONE SOLUTION
Waste water, at the same time its shortage for agriculture and the increasingly expensive irrigation service can be solved through the introduction of technologies for purification and reuse of domestic wastewater – reclaimed water. Something that Israel, Cyprus and other developed countries are well aware of.
Launched in 2019, the SuWaNuEurope project aims to promote the efficient use of water in the continent's sector, which is also in line with the EU's goals of sustainability, the circular economy and environmental protection.
The focus of the project on our part (one of the 8 target regions) is in the areas around Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Stara Zagora, namely where they experience a shortage of water resources in the spring and summer.
Through the project, everyone involved in the irrigation and water treatment chain will learn more about the technologies and will have the opportunity to cooperate in finding local solutions.
These are public administration and local government, farmers and agricultural advisory organizations, employees in the food industry (food industry) and water and sewerage companies, as they manage municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). A participant in the project, for example, is one of the largest branches of Irrigation Systems EAD - Maritsa branch, explains Assoc. Prof. Shilev.
Training seminars are planned for participants in September, where thematic issues will be discussed. Anyone interested can get involved. There will also be online courses at the beginning of 2021 in four modules: for the state administration, for operators of treatment plants, for producers and for citizens. Audio materials will be available on several platforms. The goal is to have a mass dissemination of information, says the project manager for Bulgaria.
At the international level, the project partners are Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Germany and Bulgaria.
THE BENEFITS OF THE PROJECT FOR BUSINESS
Information packages will be very useful for farmers, which will describe in detail the requirements for them, will be presented and successful examples from countries with a long tradition in water reuse - Cyprus and Israel, where water productivity is many times higher compared to Bulgaria.
Asked what the expected end effects of the project are, the scientist puts the legal changes first.
"Our goal is to persuade those in power at local, national and European level not to miss the moment," he explained, adding that the project is a research project and its task is not to build facilities or make a business plan, but to inform, to promote, advice and remind of the urgency of sustainability solutions in water management.
"Our question is whether we want it to happen quickly. Because there is no waiting time - now the CAP is being prepared after 2021. Environmental policies will be effective if the legislation is changed today," said Assoc. Prof. Shilev.
Effective legal changes at EU level, which will lead to a single regulatory framework, common standards for Member States, are set out in the new Regulation on minimum requirements for water reuse. It was also adopted at second reading by the EP last week.
In our country, the introduction of such systems in agriculture is a rarity and an obstacle to this is precisely the legislation. It must first be modernized to make it practically achievable. Now, if a farmer wants to irrigate his fields with such water, he falls under the provisions of Ordinance 18 of 2009 on the quality of water for irrigation of agricultural crops, the norms of which are even stricter than those in the new EU regulation. In addition, our environmental legislation refers to a permit for "waste water discharge" and not for "reclamation of wastewater for irrigation". And according to Assoc. Prof. Shilev, our big lag is in the lack of the term "reclaim (recycling) of water" or "reuse for irrigation" in the Water Act and the related regulations,
All involved must work together to change the regulations, because water management is divided into at least three ministries. The new regulation means adapting the existing legislation to the requirements of the regulation, not creating new legislation.
The few initiatives in our country for irrigation with reclaimed water are only private.
For example, by distilling pink flowers, some of the water that falls off is filtered, cooled and used to irrigate crops when they and the distillery are owned by the same owner, who saves on irrigation and surface water charges. There are cases when treated wastewater from the food industry is used for permanent crops, again on its own land in order to save money and resource utilization.
The use of such water for irrigation of crops for fresh consumption in our country is almost non-existent. Therefore, says Assoc. Prof. Shilev, irrigation associations are needed – to utilize the resource called reclaimed water, where it will be needed among the members of the association.
The good news is that the Ministry of Agriculture through the RDP 2014-2020 has allocated BGN 100 million for the modernization of water infrastructure in 2 sub-measures. The first is aimed at "Irrigation Systems" and the second at irrigation associations.
Farmers from one region can team up with a common goal and apply. These associations can have relief for irrigation, but also build wastewater treatment plants.
However, incentive and incentive measures are also needed. The possibility to stimulate the reuse of reclaimed water is a great chance, as a measure can be set to support irrigation associations in order to build or rehabilitate irrigation infrastructure and water treatment in the RDP and in OPE 2021-2027. proposal found a place in the "Analysis of the impact of agriculture on the environment and climate change", which we developed in a team from the Agricultural University - Plovdiv, says Assoc. Prof. Shilev.
Although our country is at the forefront of Europe in terms of potential for water reuse - with a resource of almost 500 million cubic meters per year (according to the European Hub for Science Joint Research Center), it is not used. And it is here that the role of the state is to adapt the legislation and to arouse interest among farmers, for whom the yield is important. Because if the service is financially unattractive, no one will join.
"I hope that since everyone in the chain is aware of the needs and opportunities through the project, the goals of the new rural development program will include a good financial mechanism and a simplified administration," the expert concluded.
THE BENEFITS FOR FARMERS
Farmers should be aware that the introduction of innovations for water reclamation in the sector has many benefits for them: It will reduce the need to use fertilizers, because the treatment of wastewater will preserve valuable nutrients.
In this way it will be possible to save both funds for preparations and reduce their negative effect on the environment. The volume of production will also increase.
But in order not to risk human health and the environment, implementation must follow certain rules.
They are described in the adopted EU Regulation on minimum requirements for water reuse.
Farmers will have to follow the principles of what kind of crops (divided into 4 categories) on what type of soil can be watered with a certain class of reclaimed water.
One of these conditions, for example, is that Class B water should not have direct contact with the part of the plant that is used for direct consumption.
While in recycled waters of class A and B there are no such restrictions, as the requirements for the degree of purification are higher, explains Assoc. Prof. Shilev.