Irrigation water quality and the threat it poses to crop production: evaluating the status of the Crocodile (West) and Marico catchments, South Africa

  • G. C. du Preez
  • V. Wepener
  • H. Fourie
  • M. S. Daneel


Ensuring food security is becoming increasingly difficult due to limited freshwater resources. Low-quality irrigation water also poses a severe threat to crop yield and quality. The aim of this study was to evaluate the water quality associated with the Crocodile (West) and Marico catchments, which represent one of South Africa’s most developed regions. Sources of irrigation water include the hypertrophic Hartbeespoort Dam, as well as the heavily impacted Crocodile (West) River. Analysis of historical irrigation water quality data (from January 2005 to December 2015) revealed that the Hartbeespoort and Crocodile (West) irrigation schemes were exposed to calcium sulfate enrichment, likely as a result of extensive mining activities in the Bushveld Igneous Complex. Also, significant differences in water quality parameters occurred between these irrigation schemes and the reference system (Marico-Bosveld Irrigation Scheme), while important salt (chloride and sodium) and nutrient (inorganic nitrogen and orthophosphate (as phosphorus)) concentrations exceeded threshold values provided by irrigation water quality guidelines. The Hartbeespoort and Crocodile (West) irrigation schemes also presented distinctive temporal (long-term and seasonal) patterns in water quality. Seasonal variation in pH levels at the Hartbeespoort Irrigation Scheme is likely caused by excessive algae growth and cyanobacteria blooms (Mycrocystis sp.), which also pose an important threat to human and animal health. Despite mitigation efforts by government and other stakeholders, some of South Africa’s major irrigation schemes remain highly impacted as a result of water quality deterioration.


Food security Environmental pollution Crop yield and quality Hartbeespoort dam 



The authors would like to thank Michael Silberbauer for providing the data and Sebastian Jooste for evaluating its integrity. Furthermore, the authors thank Patrice Cadet for providing constructive comments. This is paper number 238 of the Water Research Group.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. C. du Preez
    • 1
    • 2
  • V. Wepener
    • 1
  • H. Fourie
    • 1
  • M. S. Daneel
    • 2
  1. 1.Unit for Environmental Sciences and ManagementNorth-West UniversityPotchefstroomSouth Africa
  2. 2.Agricultural Research CouncilInstitute for Tropical and Subtropical CropsNelspruitSouth Africa

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