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Wastewater re-use for peri-urban agriculture: a viable option for adaptive water management?

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Urbanization is known to spur land modification in the form of conversion of common land to human settlements. This factor, combined with climate variability, can alter the duration, frequency and intensity of storm drain overflows in urban areas and lead to public health risks. In peri-urban regions where these risks are especially high it has been argued that, when domestic wastewater is managed, better prospects for freshwater water savings through swaps between urban water supply and irrigated agriculture may be possible. As a consequence of re-use of domestic wastewater, expenditure on inorganic inputs by farmers may decline and source sustainability of water supply could be enhanced. Given the fact that, at present, approximately 20 million ha of land worldwide is being cultivated by re-using domestic wastewater, this paper draws on evidence from India to explore: (1) the economic costs–benefits of wastewater reuse in the context of hypothesized links to climate variability; (2) the role of local farming practices, market conditions and crop variety in influencing wastewater reuse in agriculture; and (3) the role of inter-governmental financing in influencing the selection of technical adaptation options for collection, treatment and disposal of wastewater.

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  1. The primary role of sewerage is to transport pollution from one point to another and ultimately to the wastewater treatment plant. Interactions between sewerage and sewage works depend very much on the type of the sewer system (separate or combined). In some countries, especially in newly developed and modern cities, one finds up to three separate systems in place: sanitary sewers, industrial sewers and stormwater drainage (Brdjanovic et al. 2004).

  2. Frank Rijsberman notes in his paper for the Copenhagen Consensus Project that approximately 20 million ha of land worldwide benefits from use of domestic wastewater for irrigated agriculture. His global review of sanitation options reveals that peri-urban wastewater reuse for agriculture has one of the highest high B–C ratios (Rijsberman 2004).

  3. Use of treated wastewater for peri-urban agriculture and using freshwater that is freed up as a result to meet the burgeoning need for high value urban water supply.

  4. In the case of water and sanitation, notable service delivery outcomes include connection to a sewer network and access to a sustainable source of water supply.

  5. OECD, February 2009.

  6. A World Bank financed loan of USD 20 million to promote use of condominial sewer technology in 2001 has resulted in increased water and sanitation coverage in Peru. Approximately 30,000 families benefited in the first phase. Unit cost of water and sewerage network has also been reduced by between 40–50 %.

  7. Some examples of tariff structures include the following: flat rates for water and tax on solid waste (Bangalore, India), sewerage charge = 50 % of water supply fee is allocated for sanitation operations and maintenance (Manila, Philippines), environmental charge of 10 % for water to cover cost of cleaning septic tanks (Manila, Philippines), sewage tax and sewer connection fee calculated based on built area, house insurance amount, pay use for communal systems and bank loans for new plants (Nyon, Switzerland).

  8. Class I cities are categorized as urban centres with a population between 2.5 and 5 million.

  9. These technologies include, up-flow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB), activated sludge plant (ASP), trickling filters (TF) and oxidation pond (OP). Of these, ASP is the most expensive followed by TF, UASB and OP. But, land requirement for OP is more than three times that of the other techniques.

  10. It may be noted that rainfall data are not available consistently across stations, especially in recent years. For some, data are available until 2004, for some until the late 1990s and for some until the early 1990s. In some cases, data is available intermittently. Coefficients of variation (CV) are calculated only for the last 30 years for which data are available.

  11. Gram panchayats are units of formal local government in India. In Andhra Pradesh they are the lowest unit of local government that corresponds to the unit of a village or a group of villages.

  12. The magnitude of wastewater will increase once ten surrounding villages are merged with Karimnagar town. These villages have a population of 37,709 and expected to generate about 4 MLD wastewater.

  13. 1 USD = INR 38.

  14. Project costing can be influenced by aspects of current design of water infrastructure where sizing of primary settling tanks, aerobic tanks and anoxic tanks as well as of aeration equipment and eventual addition of external carbon source for denitrification. It is to be expected that urine separation will help avoid extension of existing plants or construction of new plants; however, the bottleneck will likely be the hydraulic capacity of the plant. The latter can be improved by introduction of water saving devices within water supplies, wider introduction of water meters, awareness rising among water users, and separation of rainwater and sanitary sewers.

  15. In the absence of scientific evidence, we assume that better managed waste water irrigation is equivalent to well irrigation + higher nutrient value. Such an assumption has limitations but is not unusual in C–B analyses.


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Correspondence to Mathew Kurian.

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Handled by Tatsuo Omura, Tohoku University, and Osamu Saito, Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP), Japan

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Kurian, M., Ratna Reddy, V., Dietz, T. et al. Wastewater re-use for peri-urban agriculture: a viable option for adaptive water management?. Sustain Sci 8, 47–59 (2013).

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