In the current era, access to clean water is considered as a global challenge, as it is affected by population growth and climate change. Water reuse towards agricultural applications can potentially mediate this situation, considering that the maintenance of food security is crucial for human health. Thus, ensuring environmental and public health protection while reusing reclaimed water from wastewater treatment plants in agriculture is critical.
A remarkable initiative towards this direction is the “Decision support-based approach for sustainable water reuse application in agricultural production” (DSWAP) project. DSWAP adopts a circular economy approach, aiming at a safe and sustainable valorization of wastewater for irrigation, with minimized ecological and agronomic impacts.
It is a combined effort among organizations (universities/research centers, private/industrial enterprises) from seven countries: Israel, Germany, Cyprus, Spain, France, Italy and Portugal. The work plan for the 3-year duration of the project includes five work packages: Module optimization and implementation (WP1), Diagnostic toolbox (WP2), Decision support tool (WP3), Communication/Dissemination and Training (WP4) and Project management (WP5).
The project focuses on the development of cost- and energy- efficient wastewater treatment modules, for decentralized wastewater reuse, and of a decision support tool, to ensure high quality of reused water and long-term sustainability of irrigated soils.
The DSWAP partners investigate the impact of crop irrigation by treated wastewater on soil and plant quality with respect to agricultural productivity in field sites in Cyprus, Spain and Israel while considering the aspect of environmental and human health. Specifically in Cyprus, lysimeters for the cultivation of lettuce plants have been installed for the investigation of the potential uptake of chemical and biological contaminants of emerging concern (CEC) in real field conditions. Among others, recent findings have shown that the pharmaceutical compounds azithromycin, clarithromycin, erythromycin and carbamazepine were detected in the wastewater-soil-plant continuum, indicating the ability of pharmaceutical compounds to be transferred and accumulated in these matrices, even in low concentrations.
Moreover, the project consortium is working on the evaluation and optimization of the performance of secondary wastewater treatment technologies, through the development and evaluation of novel advanced treatment (tertiary) modules for integration into decentralized wastewater reuse systems. The focus of the performance of these technologies is on the reduction of microbial pathogens, antibiotic resistance elements and CEC since their spread may pose a potential public health hazard. Additionally, the reduction of effluent salinity is of great importance as it can detrimentally impact soil quality and crop productivity.
Integration of field and module performance data feed a decision support tool, aimed at enhancing water quality of treated wastewater for irrigation while concomitantly reducing costs. This tool will be of great interest to public health, environmental and agricultural stakeholders as well as wastewater treatment plant managers and may facilitate better wastewater reuse practices worldwide, for the benefit of current and future generations.