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Open Access Publications from the University of California


California Agriculture is a quarterly peer-reviewed journal reporting research, reviews and news on California’s agricultural, natural and human resources.

Volume 68, Issue 3, 2014

Water efficiency: Recycled water, irrigation technology

Issue cover
Cover Caption: Complete contents, including news and editorial featuresAs California enters the third year of an historic drought, with reservoirs at all-time lows and thousands of acres lying fallow, scientists and policymakers are looking for ways to increase water conservation and efficiency across the state. New UC research demonstrates the possibilities and challenges of irrigating crops with recycled wastewater (pages 59, 68, 75) and employing technology to reduce water use in surface-irrigated fields (page 82). Shown is Trinitas Cellars, which has irrigated its 12-acre vineyard in Napa County with recycled water for over seven years. The color purple on the irrigation tubing is used universally to signify recycled or reclaimed water. Photo by Will Suckow

Research and Review Articles

Recycled water causes no salinity or toxicity issues in Napa vineyards

In response to Napa Sanitation District's interest in expanding its delivery of recycled water to vineyards for irrigation, we conducted a feasibility study to assess the suitability of the water for this use. We adopted two approaches: comparing the water quality characteristics of the recycled water with those of other local sources of irrigation water, and evaluating soil samples from a vineyard that was irrigated for 8 years with the recycled water. Results indicate that the quality of the recycled water is suitable for irrigation, and also that long-term accumulation of salts and toxic ions have not occurred in the vineyards studied and are unlikely to occur. Nutrients in the recycled water may be beneficial to vineyards, though the levels of nitrogen may need to be reduced by planting cover crops in some vineyards.

Chloride levels increase after 13 years of recycled water use in the Salinas Valley

The use of recycled water for agriculture is a long-term water strategy in California. A study in the 1980s in Monterey County showed recycled water increased soil salinity but not to a level unacceptable for agriculture. Most growers in the northern Salinas Valley have been using it since 1998, and yet providers of the water and many growers are concerned that the sustained use of recycled water might cause deterioration of the soil. An ongoing study, initiated in 2000, compares the changes in soil salinity between a field receiving only well water and eight fields that receive recycled water. In 13 years of data, the average soil salinity parameters at each site were highly correlated with the average water quality values of the recycled water. Soil salinity did increase, though not deleteriously. Of most concern was the accumulation of chloride at four of the sites, to levels above the critical threshold values for chloride-sensitive crops.

Rainfall leaching is critical for long-term use of recycled water in the Salinas Valley

In 1998, Monterey County Water Recycling Projects began delivering water to 12,000 acres in the northern Salinas Valley. Two years later, an ongoing study began assessing the effects of the recycled water on soil salinity. Eight sites are receiving recycled water and a control site is receiving only well water. In data collected from 2000 to 2012, soil salinity of the 36-inch-deep profile was on average approximately double that of the applied water, suggesting significant leaching from applied water (irrigation) or rainfall. In this study, we investigated some of the soil water hydrology factors possibly controlling the soil salinity results. Using soil water balance modeling, we found that rainfall had more effect on soil salinity than did leaching from irrigation. Increasing applied water usually only correlated significantly with soil salinity parameters in the shallow soil profile (1 to 12 inches depth) and at 24 to 36 inches at sites receiving fairly undiluted recycled water. Winter rains, though, had a critical effect. Increasing rainfall depths were significantly correlated with decreasing soil salinity of the shallow soil at all test sites, though this effect also diminished with increased soil depth. When applied water had high salinity levels, winter rainfall in this area was inadequate to prevent soil salinity from increasing.


Water advance model and sensor system can reduce tail runoff in irrigated alfalfa fields

Surface irrigation, such as flood or furrow, is the predominant form of irrigation in California for agronomic crops. Compared to other irrigation methods, however, it is inefficient in terms of water use; large quantities of water, instead of being used for crop production, are lost to excess deep percolation and tail runoff. In surface-irrigated fields, irrigators commonly cut off the inflow of water when the water advance reaches a familiar or convenient location downfield, but this experience-based strategy has not been very successful in reducing the tail runoff water. Our study compared conventional cutoff practices to a retroactively applied model-based cutoff method in four commercially producing alfalfa fields in Northern California, and evaluated the model using a simple sensor system for practical application in typical alfalfa fields. These field tests illustrated that the model can be used to reduce tail runoff in typical surface-irrigated fields, and using it with a wireless sensor system saves time and labor as well as water.

Predicting invasive plants in California

Preventing plant invasions or eradicating incipient populations is much less costly than confronting large well-established populations of invasive plants. We developed a preliminary determination of plants that pose the greatest risk of becoming invasive in California, primarily through the horticultural industry. We identified 774 species that are invasive elsewhere in Mediterranean climates but not yet invasive in California. From this list, we determined which species are sold through the horticulture industry, whether they are sold in California and whether they have been reported as naturalized in California. We narrowed the list to 186 species with the greatest potential for introduction and/or invasiveness to California through the horticultural trade. This study provides a basis for determining species to evaluate further through a more detailed risk assessment that may subsequently prevent importation via the horticultural pathway. Our results can also help land managers know which species to watch for in wildlands.

Editorial, News, Letters and Science Briefs