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Wastewater Reuse in Agriculture

14 June 2021

The Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Zaragoza (CIHEAM Zaragoza), together with CIHEAM Bari, has recently organized an advanced course on “Wastewater Reuse in Agriculture” targeting specialists in water and irrigation management in the Mediterranean area. The course took place between 17 and 25 May 2021, with institutional support from ICARDA (International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas), IWMI (International Water Management Institute) the ReWater MENA Project and the Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), and the Action Plan for the Water Strategy of the 5+5 Dialogue.

Nineteen specialists from the coorganizing institutions, research centres, universities and firms in different countries lectured on the course, all top experts in their fields of expertise. They shared their knowledge and expertise and answered questions posed by over 50 professionals working in the water sectors of 16 countries in and around the Mediterranean (Albania, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Spain, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen). Due to the health and safety measures in force during the pandemic, the course was held online, fulfilling all the necessary technical requirements to ensure the smooth-running of the activity. A virtual campus with a repository for the course material was made available to participants, as well as an online simultaneous interpreting service in 3 languages (Spanish, French and English).

During the course, specific sessions addressed health and agronomic aspects related to regenerated water quality; national and international regulations and standards; implementation of new water treatment plants and existing wastewater treatment systems; short, medium and long-term effects of regenerated water use on crop production and soil contamination; the side effects that the use of this type of water can have on agriculture and on the environment, as well as related socioeconomic aspects. The course included practical sessions with virtual video-visits to see water treatment and reuse processes in the Region of Murcia (one of the most active areas in this type of reuse). A practical was also organized to discuss and develop a mock water reuse project where participants took on specific roles (water authority, treatment plant manager, end user, etc.). The aim of this role game was for participants to learn how to apply the technical knowledge acquired throughout the course and get an idea of the complexity and multidisciplinarity involved in developing a project of regenerated water use for the agricultural sector. The combination of theory and practice enabled participants to acquire the knowledge needed to apply water reuse practices in their respective countries, and choose the most suitable treatment system to be used, considering the conditioning agronomic factors in their irrigation systems, the importance of the social and environmental perception of the project and the precise cost analysis that the development of a project of these characteristics requires. The course aimed to harmonize action criteria among the participating countries by training their senior managers, so as to enable the whole Mediterranean area faced with the common challenge of scarce conventional water resources to apply similar water reuse approaches considering the importance of these irrigation practices in environmental, agronomic and social terms.