Treated wastewater use in water deficit regions for agriculture: economic, environmental, and public health issues
Coastal regions such as the Gaza Strip of Palestine with limited freshwater supply suffer significantly due to the rapid depletion of water levels, seawater intrusion, and increased water demands. In such regions, use of treated wastewater (TWW) is a viable option if public health issues are addressed. The goal of this paper is to address the use of TWW in agriculture while considering net benefit, economic efficiency of water use (EEWU), environmental goals, and public health risks. The proposed methodology considers public health risk assessment and multi-criteria decision analysis to assess the beneficial use of TWW in agriculture. The methodology was demonstrated for the Gaza Strip. The health risk assessment suggests that increasing the elapsed time between irrigation and consumption and switching from surface to sprinkler and drip irrigation are practical measures to reduce public health risks. The optimization and decision analyses show that proper allocation of freshwater and TWW and distribution of land area by crop type can significantly increase the net benefit and EEWU. In most cases, net benefit increased by 44%, groundwater use reduced 29% while increasing the EEWU by threefold compared with the existing conditions. The multi-criteria decision analysis with weighted goal programming can develop flexible management options that considers a given decision-maker preference. When groundwater abstraction for agriculture reduced from 57 to 36 Mm3 as per decision analysis, the corresponding area below mean sea level decreased by 58% indicating significant aquifer recovery.