The alternatives to agricultural irrigation are more than we think
Natural resources, including water, are in great danger as the UN has warned, calling for the new decade to be a "decade of action" for sustainable development. European experts point out that Europe, a continent in which water sources such as rivers and lakes, are everywhere around us, faces serious challenges related to the quantity and quality of the water resources.
The urbanization, the growing domestic and industrial needs, the unsuitable utilization and maintenance of water supplies and sewerage systems, water pollution and use, even in sectors where there are other raw materials as substitutes, and the effects of climate change, are putting serious pressure on the Old Continent's water resources and on their quality.
At the same time, around 80% of the consumption of fresh water for drinking, industrial and agricultural use in the European Union comes from rivers and groundwater, and these sources are most vulnerable to the threats posed by overexploitation, pollution and climate change. Bulgaria is now more than ever experiencing a shortage of water resources, which has become more and more tangible in the last three years, and inevitably the time has come for the institutions to develop a national plan, by all means. Some days ago the Minister of environment and water said that whole Southern Black See coast of Bulgaria have water for about 5 months so we have to change the way of water usage. The Minister stressed that some dams have not been filled for years due to weak rainfall, only are used.
Changes in the water sector in Bulgaria are happening, but actions are needed to support them so that the right and necessary innovations are introduced without getting behind other European countries. What matters is what we mean by innovation. We need to talk about modern solutions with new technologies. Bulgaria has an intellectual resource to catch up with the already created technologies and innovations and at the same time to contribute to their development and improvement. According to the latest data of the World Resources Institute for the past 2019, a large part of the territory of our country is in a situation of extreme levels of water stress.
It reaches 80% risk of fresh water supply shortage in almost all of Western and Southern Bulgaria, including the regions of Sofia, Plovdiv and Stara Zagora, moreover parts of the Rhodopes have high levels of water stress and an index of over 40%. The water supply network in Bulgaria is in a difficult state – for the most part it is very old, from the 60s and 70s, and the annual percentage of losses is progressively increasing, according to the Energy and Water Regulatory Commission (EWRC) in its latest expert report published in the end of December.
Climate change, rising water losses through old pipes and debts from water and sanitation operators will all contribute to more water crises. All this will have an equal impact on both the economic and social life. Water losses in the country are about 60%, which is at least 20% above the EU average.
As an initial step, a significant contribution will be made to the construction of a unified, independent information system for data collection and processing which will result in a complete and accurate analysis, taking into account the situation in real time. Thus, it will be possible to redirect resources from places with abundance, including waste water, to places with shortages. This makes it possible to distinguish water depending on its source and wastewater.
However, the second step is to find environmentally friendly, "smart" and applicable solutions. As innovations enter the household and our daily lives, they also break the walls of water supply and sewerage systems, wastewater treatment plants and agriculture. There are many modern solutions that have better characteristics than the classic ones. A good alternative is the renovation of existing treatment plants in order to maximize the efficiency of the outflow with quality suitable for irrigation and quantity, according to the needs of the area.
The alternative is the need to adequately respond to the water shortage crisis, both for irrigation and for drinking, cooling in energy and other needs. The SUWANU EUROPE project can provide guidance to the Bulgarian agricultural sector. SUWANU EUROPE is an EU-funded project focused on the use of regenerated water for irrigation in agriculture. The reason is that wastewater, when treated according to appropriate standards and methods, has a strong potential to complement conventional water resources used in agricultural irrigation.
The aim of the project is to promote the effective exchange of knowledge, experience and skills between practitioners and relevant actors in the reuse of water in agriculture. For this reason, SUWANU EUROPE has set up regional working groups between members of the consortium and the relevant actors in 8 target regions, working to disseminate the results of the project. A regional group composed of various stakeholders operates at the Agricultural University - Plovdiv, which is a participant in the project.
The project is of great importance for the region and our country, especially at this time, in conditions of restrictions on water use for irrigation, imposed by the competent ministries due to shortage of water resources.
The moment for popularization, for seeking a wide discussion, for starting the application of already established innovations in the field of reusable water resources, has come. Even with a deeper analysis, it may turn out that Bulgaria is late. We must also take into account the fact that when we are ready with the conceptual designs and the national development plan in this direction, it will take an extremely long time to achieve the first results. That is why the promotion and wide discussion that the SUWANU EUROPE project allows is extremely timely and useful.
The current situation, reflecting the state of water resources in Bulgaria, was confirmed by a recent statement by the Minister of Environment and Water, who warned that a water crisis is imminent in the country if there is no precipitation this year. The Ministry manages the waters of 52 complex and significant dams. According to their main purpose, the volumes available in them as of July 30 are as follows:
- drinking and household water supply - 70.2% of their total volume;
- irrigation - 42.2% of their total volume;
- energy - 76.6% of their total volume.
The approach of the responsible institutions with the introduction of restrictions on water use is very wrong, instead of creating organizations and structures and teams whose tasks are to search, find and develop solutions and innovations that the SuWaNu Europe project considers and which is a European policy for overcoming the shortage of irrigation water. The very fact that this year the drought caused serious damage to the granary of Bulgaria, Dobrudzha, and so the yields are among the lowest in the country, is eloquent. The average yield for Bulgaria has decreased by over 20% and is 393 kg / dka, which is over 100 kg less than in 2019. So far it is clear that at 100,000 dka the harvest has fallen to 100%, and the damage is still being described, and at over 950,000 dka the harvest is also affected, but not completely. What other evidence is needed for the seriousness of the problem and the need to move the responsible authorities.
Source: Operational analyses for prime agricultural crops (Bulletin 32/2020, Sofia, 12 august 2020).