Urban wastewater reuse in agriculture for irrigation in arid and semi-arid regions - A review

Document Type: Review


1 Department of Water Engineering, Faculty of Agriculture, Shahrekord University, Shahrekord, Iran

2 Department of Agriculture, Payamnoor University, Tehran. Iran

3 Department of Water Engineering, Kerman University, Kerman, Iran

4 Faculty of Pharmacy, Hamadan University of Medical Science, Hamadan, Iran

5 Department of Water Engineering, Faculty of Agriculture, Isfahan Branch, Islamic Azad University, Isfahan, Iran

6 Department of Water Engineering, Faculty of Agriculture, Isfahan University of Technology, Isfahan, Iran


Purpose In recent years, attempts have been made to compensate irrigation water shortage through widespread wastewater application as a low-quality water resource for agriculture. The existing wastewater treatment plants do not have sufficient capacity to treat such a huge volume of wastewater. In arid and semiarid region, soil type as well as climate is different from the others, so the aim of this paper is the review of literature on the effects of wastewater reuse in agriculture.
Methods An extensive literature review was conducted to evaluate urban wastewater effects on soil, plant and environment.
Results One of the best methods for wastewater disposal is wastewater discharge into the soil. However, as it was revealed in this research, in most cases, this method would lead to increased salinity, SAR, organic matter content, permeability, and electric conductivity as well as reduced soil bulk density. Nevertheless, wastewater effect on soil physical properties depends on its characteristics and also its application period. For instance, in durations less than one year, wastewater has often no significant effect on some soil properties such as bulk density. The best wastewater usage approach is utilizing drip irrigation method, which can overcome the shortcomings resulted from its application. In most studies carried out in this field, wastewater irrigation has led to increased accumulation of heavy elements and nutrients in the soil and even sometimes in under-cultivation plants. It is noteworthy that these elements' accumulation in the fruit section is less than their accumulation in the vegetable part of the plants.
Conclusion The use of wastewater without accurate management can extremely cause adverse environmental outcomes, including soil salinization, soil degradation, reduced soil hydraulic conductivity, soil hydrophobicity, poisoning, reduced yield of the crops, and surface/groundwater resources' contamination, and eventually the prevalence of diseases. Consequently, in order to reuse wastewater for agriculture, microbial contamination' reduction should be seriously considered in accordance with the standards determined by the Environmental Protection Agency or the World Health Organization guidelines. It is highly emphasized that after reaching the required standards, the wastewater can be used for irrigation. In conclusion, Pharmaceuticals presence in the wastewater are a growing global concern.


Abedi Kopaei J, Afyouni M, Mostafazadeh B, Mosavi SF, Bagheri MR (2003) Effect of sprinkler and surface irrigation with treated wastewater on soil salinity. J Water Wastewater 14(1):2-11

Abedi Kopaei J, Mostafazadeh-Fard B, Afyuni M, Bagheri MR (2006) Effect of treated wastewater on soil chemical and physical properties in an arid region. Plant Soil Environ 8:335-344. https://doi.10.17221/3450-PSE

Abegunrin TP, Awe GO, Idowu DO, Adejumobi MA (2016) Impact of wastewater irrigation on soil physico-chemical properties, growth and water use pattern of two indigenous vegetables in southwest Nigeria. Catena 139:167-178. https://doi.10.1016/j.catena.2015.12.014

Afyuni M, Rezaei nejad Y, Khayambashi B (1997) Effect of sewage sludge on yield and heavy metal uptake of Lettuce and Spinach. J Water Soil Sci 2:19-30

Aghabarati A (2006) Effect of irrigation with urban wastewater on chemical properties of soils and olive ,
s growth in Rey green space. Master thesis. Faculty of Natural Resources and Marine Sciences, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran
Aghabarati A, Hosseini SM, Esmaeili A, Maralian H (2008) Accumulation of heavy metals, lead and zinc, in leaves and fruits of olive and irrigated trees with urban sewage. J Environmental Studies 34 (47):51-58
 Aiello R, Cirelli GL, Consoli S (2007) Effects of reclaimed wastewater irrigation on soil and tomato fruits: A case study in Sicily (Italy). Agric Water Manag (93):65-72. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agwat.2007.06.008

Al Aukidy M, Verlicchi P, Jelic A, Petrovic M, Barcelò D (2012) Monitoring release of pharmaceutical compounds: Occurrence and environmental risk assessment of two WWTP effluents and their receiving bodies in the Po Valley, Italy Science of The Total Environment 438:15-25 https://doi.10.1016/j.scitotenv. 2012.08.061

Al Jaboobi M, Hamed Tijane M, El-Ariqi S, El Housni A, Zouahri A, Bouksaim M (2013) Assessment of the impact of wastewater use on Soil Properties. J Mater Environ Sci 5(3):747-752

Al Omron AM, El-Maghrabi SE, Nadeem MEA, El-Etre AM, Al-Mohani H (2012) Long term effect of irrigation with the treated sewage effluent on some soil properties of Al-Hassa Governote, Saudi Arabia. J Saudi Soc Agric Sci 11:15-18. https://doi.10.1016/j.jssas.2011.04.004

Alazba AA (1998) Necessity for modification of management parameters when using low quality water. Agric Water Manag 36(3): 201-211. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0378-3774(97)00053-X

Alghobar MA, Suresha S (2015) Evaluation of metal accumulation in soil and tomatoes irrigated with sewage water from Mysore city, Karnataka, India. J Saudi Soc Agri Sci 16:49-59. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jssas. 2015.02.002

Allan JA (2001) The middle east water question: Hydropolitics and the global economy. I.B. Tauris and Co. Ltd. London UK, pp 382

Aranda V, Ayora-Cañada MJ, Domínguez-Vidal A, Martín-García JM, Calero J, Delgado R, González-Vila FJ (2011) Effect of soil type and management (organic vs. conventional) on soil organic matter quality in olive groves in a semi-arid environment in Sierra Mágina Natural Park (Spain). Geoderma 164(1):54–63. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoderma.2011.05.010

Arast M, Zehtabian GH, Jafari M, Khosravi H, Shojaei S (2018) The study of urban wastewater, saline water and brackish water effects on some soil characteristics (Case study: Qom plain). Iran J Range Desert Res 23(3):541-552

Arye G, Tarchitzky J, Chen Y (2011) Treated wastewater effects on water repellency and soil hydraulic properties of soil aquifer treatment infiltration basins. J Hydrol 397:136–145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2010.11. 046

Asgari A, Albaji M (2017) Investigation the possibility of using wastewater for agriculture (case study: Shahrekord’s municipal sewage treatment plant). J Water Soil Conserv 24(2): 303-308. https://doi.10. 22069/jwfst.2017.11825.2632

Assadian NW, Di Giovanni GD, Enciso J, Iglesias J, Lindemann W (2005) The transport of waterborne solutes and bacteriophage in soil subirrigated with a wastewater blend. Agr Ecosyst Environ 111(1-4):279-291. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2005.05.010

Bahmanyar MA (2007) The effects of wastewater irrigation on some soil and crops properties. J Environmental Studies 44:19-26

Bahremand M, Afyuni M, Hajabbassi A, Rezainejad Y (2003) Effect of sewage sludge on soil physical properties. J Water Soil Sci 6(4): 1-8

Balkhair KS (2016) Microbial contamination of vegetable crop and soil profile in arid regions under controlled application of domestic wastewater. Saudi J Biol Sci 23(1):s83-s92.  https://doi.10.1016/j.sjbs.2015.10.029

Banitalebi G, Beigi harchagani H, Ghobadinia M (2016) The effect of long- term irrigation with municipal treated wastewater on the saturated hydraulic conductivity of silty loam soil and its estimation- a case study. J Water Soil Sci 21(1):171-184. https://doi.10.18869/acadpubjstnar.21.1. 171

Barzegar R, Moghaddam AA, Deo R, Fijani E, Tziritis E (2018) Mapping groundwater contamination risk of multiple aquifers using multi-model ensemble of machine learning algorithms. Sci Total Environ 621: 697-712. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.11.185

Beigi harchagani H, Banitalebi G (2013) The Effect of long-term application of municipal wastewater on soil physical quality indices: A case study in the Taqanak farms, Shahrekord. J Water Soil 27(5): 1046-1056. https://doi.org/10.22067/jsw.v0i0.21593

Bichai F, Polo-López MI, Iba˜nez PF (2012) Solar disinfection of wastewater to reduce contamination of lettuce crops by Escherichia coli in reclaimed water irrigation. Water Res 46: 6040–6050. https://doi.org/10.1016/j. watres.2012.08.024

Boromandnasab S, Ghalambaz S (2008) The effect of irrigation with wastewater on agricultural lands holding capacity. 1th regional overview of wastewater management and reuse in the eastern Mediterranean region, challenges and solutions

Boyd GR, Reemtsma H, Grimm DA, Mitra S (2003) Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in surface and treated waters of Louisiana, USA and Ontario, Canada Science of The Total Environment 311:135-149. https://doi.10.1016/s0048-9697(03)00138-4

Brookes PC, Ocio JA, Wu J (1990) The microbial biomass its measurement properties and role in nitrogen and carbon dynamics following substrate incorporation. Soil Microorg 35: 39–51

Campos C, Oron G, Salgot M, Gillerman L, Casals G (2000) Attenuation of microorganisms in the soil during drip irrigation with waste stabilisation pond effluent. Water Sci Technol 10–11: 387–392. https://doi.10.2166/ wst.2000.0686

Chen Y, Lerner O, Tarchitzky J (2003) Hydraulic conductivity and soil hydrophobicity: Effect of irrigation with reclaimed wastewater. In: Lundstrom U (ed) Proceedings of the 9th Nordic IHSS symposium on abundance and functions of natural organic matter species in soil and water, Mid-Sweden University, Sundsvall p 19

Cheshmazar E, Arfaeinia H, Karimyan K, Sharafi H, Hashemi SE (2018) Dataset for effect comparison of irrigation by wastewater and groundwater on amount of heavy metals in soil and vegetables: Accumulation, transfer factor and health risk assessment. Data Brief 18: 1702-1710. https://doi.10.1016/j.dib.2018.04.108

Choopan Y, Khashei Siuki A, Shahidi A (2018) The Effect of irrigation with sugar plant wastewater and water stress on plant height, root length and barley grain protein (Yusef Variety). J Water Soil Sci 21(4):99-109. https:// doi.10.29252/jstnar.21.4.99

Chorom M, Aghaei Foroushani M (2007) Effects of amended sewage sludge application on yield and heavy metal uptake of barley: A case study of Ahvaz sewage treatment plant. J Water Wastewater 18(2):53-63

Chorom M, Ahmadzadeh Sarvestani S (2010) Application of wastewater on soil properties Faba Bean and Rye plants growth index in the presence and absence of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal fungi. National conference on waste and agricultural wastewater management, pp 107

Da fonseca AF, Jose Melfi A, Monteiro FA, Montes CR, Almeida VV, Herpin U (2007) Treated sewage effluent as a source of water and nitrogen for Tifton 85 bermudagrass. Agric Water Manag 87:328-336. https:// doi.org/10.1016/j.agwat.2006.08.004

Dadban Shahamat Y, Sangbari N, Zafarzadeh A, Beirami S (2017) Heavy Metal contamination in the effluent and sludges of wastewater treatment plant in Gorgan, Iran.J Mazandaran Univ Med Sci 27 (150):158-169

Diamantis V, Ziogas A, Giougis J, Pliakas F, Diamantis I (2009) Effect of treated wastewater application on soil water repellency of sandy soil with olive trees and grass cover. Geophys Res Abstr 11: 2009-2153. https://doi. meetings.copernicus.org/egu2009

Diamantis V, Pagorogon L, Gazani E, Doerr SH, Pliakas F, Ritsema CJ (2013) Use  of olive  mill  wastewater  (OMW)  to  decrease  hydrophobicity  in sandy  soil. Ecol Eng 58:393-398. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng. 2013.07.001

Drechsel P, Ascott Ch, Raschid-sally L, Redwood M, Bahri A (2010) Wastewater irrigation and health assessing and mitigating risk in low- income countries. A primer: Earthscan with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in the UK and USA. https://doi.org/10. 1016/j.jenvman.2008.07.001

Elgallal M, Fletcher L, Evans B (2016) Assessment of potential risks associated with chemicals in wastewater used for irrigation in arid and semiarid zones: A review. Agric Water Manag 177: 419-431. https://doi.org/10. 1016/j.agwat.2016.08.027

Elifantz H, Kautsky L, Mor-Yosef M, Tarchitzky J, Bar-Tal A, Chen Y et al. (2011) Microbial activity and organic matter dynamics during 4 years of irrigation with treated wastewater. Microb Ecol 62: 973–981. https://doi.10. 1007/s00248-011-9867-y

Emami A, Rezvani moghadam P, Ghodratnama A, Hafezian SH (2007) Investigation the effects of different proportions of refined urban sewage on some qualitative charcterestics of forage sorghum, corn and millet. Iran J Field Crop Res 5(2):211-219

Erfani A, Haghnia GH, Alizadeh A (2002) Effect of municipal wastewater irrigation on tomato,s yield and quality. J Sci Agric Ind 15:65-77

Farhadkhani M, Nikaeen M, Yadegarfar G, Hatamzadeh M, Pourmohammadbagher H, Sahbaei Z, Rahmani H R (2018) Effects of irrigation with secondary treated wastewater on physicochemical and microbial properties of soil and produce safety in a semi-arid area. Water Res 144: 356-364. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2018.07.047

Fatta-Kassinos D, Meric S, Nikolaou A (2010) Pharmaceutical residues in environmental waters and wastewater: Current state of knowledge and future research Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 399:251-275. https://doi:10.1007/s00216-010-4300-9

Feigin A, Ravina I, Shalhevet J (2012) Irrigation with treated sewage effluent: management for environmental protection. Springer Science and Business Media

Feyen J, Badji M (1993) Environmental and health aspects of irrigation. Zeitschrift fürBewa¨sserungswirtschaft 28:6–30

Feyzi H, Rezvani moghadam P (2008) Use of treated urban wastewater for wheat, barly and triticale production. 3th National Congress on Recycling of Organic Wastes in Agriculture. Khorasgan Islamic Azad university, 15-17 May

Francois LE, Maas EV (1994) Crop Response and Management of Salt-affected Soils. In: Pessarakli, M. (Ed.), Handbook of Plant and Crop Stress. Marcel Dekker, New York, NY 343–449

Frenk S, Hadar Y, Minz D (2013) Resilience of soil bacterial community to irrigation with water of different qualities under Mediterranean climate. Environ Micro biol 16: 559–569. https://doi.10.1111/1462-2920.12183

Gallegos EA, Warren E, Robles E, Campoy A, Calderon MG, Sainz P, Escolero O (1999) The effects of wastewater irrigation on groundwater quality in Mexico. Water Sci Technol 40: 45-52. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0273-1223 (99)00429-1

García-Orenes F, Caravaca F, Morugán-Coronado A, Roldán A (2015) Prolonged irrigation with municipal wastewater promotes a persistent and active soil microbial community in a semiarid agro ecosystem. Agric Water Manag 149: 115-122. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agwat.2014.10.030

Gatta G, Libutti A, Gagliardi A, Beneduce L, Brusetti L, Borruso L, Disciglio G and Tarantino E (2015) Treated agro-industrial wastewater irrigation of tomato crop: Effects on qualitative/quantitative characteristics of production and microbiological properties of the soil. Agric Water Manag 149:33-43. https://doi.org/10.1016 /j.agwat.2014.10.016

Ghanbari A, Abedi  Kopaei J, Taie Semiromi J (2007) Effect of municipal wastewater irrigation on yield and quality of wheat and some soil properties in Sistan Zone. J Water Soil Sci 10(4):59-75

Ghorbani H (2009) Environmental benefits and challenges of wastewater application in irrigation. 3th conference on environmental engineering, Iran

Gupta N, Khan DK, Santra SC (2012) Heavy metal accumulation in vegetables grown in long term wastewater irrigated agricultural land of tropical, India. Environ Monit Assess 184: 6673-6682. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-011-2450-7

Hajhamad L, Almasri MN (2009) Assessment of nitrate contamination of groundwater using lumped-parameter models. Environ Modell Softw 24: 1073-1087. https:// doi.org/10.1016/j.envsoft.2009.02.014

Hasan H, Battikhi A, Qrunfleh M (2014) Impacts of treated wastewater reuse on some soil properties and production of Gladiolus communis. J Hortic 1 (3). https://doi. org/10.4172/2376-0354.1000111

Hassan Oghli A, Liaghat A, Mirabzadeh M (2005) Investigating of soil  saturated hydraulic conductivity changes via irrigation by raw and treated domestic wastewaters, J Agric Sci 4:99-109

Hassan Oghli A, Liaghat A, Mirabzadeh M (2006) Investigation of phosphorous leaching to soil depth by irrigation with raw and treated domestic wastewater obtained from Ekbatan treatment plant. J Water Soil Sci 10(4): 29- 43

Hassanli AM, Javan M (2006) Evaluation of urban treated wastewater and its application on green space irrigation. J Environmental Studies 38:23-30

Hassanli AM, Ebrahimizadeh MA, Beecham S (2009) The effects of irrigation methods with effluent and irrigation scheduling on water use efficiency and corn yields in an arid region. Agric Water Manag 96(1): 93-99. https:// doi.org/10.1016/j.agwat.2008.07.004

Heidarpour M, Mostafazadeh-Fard B,  Kopaei JA, Malekian R (2007) The effects of treated wastewater on soil chemical properties using subsurface and surface irrigation methods. Agric Water Manag 90(1-2): 87-94. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agwat.2007.02.009

Hernandez T, Moreno J, Costa F (1991) Influence of sewage sludge application on crop yield and heavy metal availability. Soil Sci Plant Nutr 37: 201-210 . https://doi. hdl.handle.net/10317/859

Hosseinpour A, Haghnia GHH, Fotovat A (2007) Effects of irrigation with raw wastewater and urban wastewater on some chemical properties of soil at different depths under continues and alternate conditions. Iran J Irrig Drain1(2):73-85

Hussain G, Al-Saati AJ (1999) Wastewater quality and its reuse in agriculture in Saudi Arabia. Desalination, 123 (2-3): 241-251. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0011-9164(99) 00076-4

Hussain I, Rachid L, Hanjra MA, Marikar F, Vander Hoek W (2002) Wastewater use in agriculture: Review of impacts and methodological issues in valuing impacts. International Water Management Institute. Working Paper 37, Colombo, Sri Lanka. https://doi.org/10.1016/ S0011-9164(99)00076-4

Jalali M, Merikhpour H, Kaledhonkar MJ, Van Der Zee SE (2008) Effects of wastewater irrigation on soil sodicity and nutrient leaching in calcareous soils. Agric Water Manag 95(2): 143-153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agwat. 2007.09.010

Jalali A, Galavi M, Ghanbari A, Ramroudi M, Yousef Elahi M (2010) Effects of irrigation with municipal treated wastewater on yield and heavy metal uptake in forage Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L.). J Water Soil Sci 14(52):15-25

Jesmanitafti N, Jozi SA, Monavari S M (2014) Review the environmental effects of using industrial wastewater effluent (case study: Iran Qom Shokouhie industrial state). J.  Environ. Prot. Sci 5(10): 874. http://dx.doi. org/10.4236/jep.2014.510089

Joekar-Niasar V, Ataie-Ashtiani B (2009) Assessment of nitrate contamination in unsaturated zone. Environ Geol 57:1785-1798. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00254-008-1464-0

Kavvadias V, Doula M, Papadopoulou M, Theocharopoulos S (2015) Long-term application of olive-mill wastewater affects soil chemical and microbial properties. Soil Res 53(4):461-473. https://doi.org/10.1071/SR13325

Kebonye NM, Eze PN, Akinyemi FO (2017) Long term treated wastewater impacts and source identification of heavy metals in semi-arid soils of Central Botswana. Geoderma Reg 10: 200-214. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geodrs.2017. 08.001

Khaliq SJ , Al-Busaidi A, Ahmed M, Al-Wardy M, Agrama H, Choudri B S (2017) The effect of municipal sewage sludge on the quality of soil and crops. Int J Recycl Org Waste Agricult 6(4): 289-299

Khashiboun K, Zilberman A, Shaviv A, Starosvetsky J, Armon R )2007( The fate of Cryptosporidium Parvum Oocysts in reclaimed water irrigation-history and non-history soils irrigated with various effluent qualities. Water Air Soil Poll 185:33–41. https://doi.10.1007/ s11270-007-9420-2

Klay S, Charef A, Ayed L, Houman B, Rezgui F (2010) Effect of irrigation with treated wastewater on geochemical properties (saltiness, C, N and heavy metals) of isohumic soils (Zaouit Sousse perimeter, Oriental Tunisia). Desalination 253 (1–3): 180–187. https://doi.org/10. 1016/j.desal.2009.10.019

Kumawat SR, Yadav BL, Majumdar SP (2017) Effect of municipal sewage on soil properties in the vicinity of Jaipur city of eastern Rajasthan. Inter J Curr Microbiol Appl Sci 6(8): 1683-1689. https://doi.org/10.20546/ ijcmas.2017.608.202

Kummerer K (2004) Resistance in the environment The Journal of antimicrobial chemotherapy 54:311-320. https://doi.10.1093/jac/dkh325

Kummerer K, Erbe T, Gartiser S, Brinker L (1998) AOX-emissions from hospitals into municipal waste water Chemosphere 36:2437-2445. https://doi.10.1016/s0045-6535(97)10200-4

Lado M, Ben-Hur M (2009). Treated domestic sewage irrigation effects on soil hydraulic properties in arid and semiarid zones: A review. Soil Till Res 106(1):152-16