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Agricultural Reuse

What is Agricultural Reuse?

Agricultural reuse refers to the use of recycled water in agricultural settings, including irrigation of food crops, non-food crops like turfgrass, garden crops, and animal feed. Common sources of water for reuse in agriculture include municipal wastewater facilities or water reclamation facilities, processing plants for agricultural products, and runoff from fields after irrigation—also known as tailwater. Recycled water is treated to meet the standards established for its end use and is often of higher quality than water traditionally available to farmers, such as surface waters, which are exposed to a variety of pollution sources.

Benefits of Agricultural Reuse

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, agriculture accounts for more than 80% of the nation’s water consumption. The benefits of using recycled water to meet this critical demand include:

Resilience

Water recycling provides a reliable supply of freshwater that does not depend on environmental factors or conservation.

Local Control

Agricultural reuse creates a local water supply to offset the use of imported water in areas that depend on water transported from other regions.

Environmental Protection

Agricultural reuse saves water resources for environmental benefits such as aquatic habitat, reduces pollution to sensitive water bodies, and reduces energy use associated with pumping water long distances.

High Water Quality

State and federal regulations establish stringent standards for recycled water quality that protect public health.

Member Benefit: Downloadable PDF

Food Safety

Years of testing and analysis have established that the safety of recycled water for use on food crops is comparable to other sources of water. Recycled water in food production is treated to meet all applicable state and federal regulations, delivering water that is safe for humans and the environment.

Examples of Water Reuse for Agriculture

Agricultural water reuse has a long history as a multi-benefit solution to address water supply challenges, water quality issues, environmental stresses, and food security risks. Here are a few examples:

Hydroponic Greenhouse | John Day, Oregon

The City of John Day replaced its aging wastewater treatment plant with a facility that uses hydroponic technology for beneficial reuse. The design includes a purple-pipe extension to a city-owned greenhouse where vegetables are grown in nutrient-fortified recycled water instead of in soil. The city hosts a weekly farmers market to sell the produce to the general public and generate revenue for its operations. The production goals include over 4,000 pounds of fresh produce monthly, remediating a rural food desert and jump starting a recovering economy.

Water Conserv II | Orange County, Florida

For over 30 years, a coalition that includes the City of Orlando, Orange County, and the region’s agricultural community have worked cooperatively to irrigate up to 2,737 acres of citrus annually with recycled water. Water Conserv II is the largest water reuse project of its kind, combining agricultural irrigation with aquifer recharge. Initially developed to eliminate wastewater discharges to surface waters, the program now provides a dependable long-term source of water for citrus growers and accelerates recharge of the Floridan aquifer.

Alfalfa and Poplar | Hayden, Idaho

The Hayden Area Regional Sewer Board treats about 1.2 million gallons of wastewater each day, recycling as much as 100% of it to irrigate alfalfa and poplar trees on city-owned farmland. Although water is abundant in the region, the City of Hayden began implementing agricultural reuse to avoid releasing treated wastewater into sensitive waterways. The program keeps nitrogen out of the Spokane River and away from groundwater, while producing beneficial crops.

Regional Water Recycling | Monterey, California

Increased agricultural production in northern Monterey County, a region known as the “salad bowl of the nation,” led to significant water quality challenges as seawater intruded into over-pumped groundwater aquifers. In 1998, the Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project began supplying recycled water to area growers to supplement the water supply and decrease groundwater pumping. Today, recycled water is used to irrigate more than 12,000 acres of conventional and organic food crops. The local utility, Monterey One Water, treats and recycles wastewater, stormwater, food industry processing water, and impaired surface waters.

Piccadilly Farm | Kent County, Maryland

After years of inconsistent crop yields due to periodic drought, Piccadilly Farm partnered with the Kent County Department of Water and Wastewater to develop a public-private partnership that now provides recycled water to irrigate 75 acres of corn and soybean crops. Membrane filtration and ultraviolet light are used to transform effluent from the Worton-Butlertown Wastewater Treatment Plant into reliable, cost-effective and highly regulated water, dramatically increasing crop yields.

Agricultural Reuse Stories

Fresno Recycled Water

Tapped Out: The EGAP Story

Sustainable Water Reuse in Agriculture

Regulations and Resources

Agricultural Reuse Research

Photo courtesy of The Freshwater Trust

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