The use of marginal water, such as reclaimed wastewater or effluent, for irrigation can reduce the pressure on existing freshwater resources. However, this can cause contaminants to accumulate in compartments such as the soil, crop, air, surface- and groundwater, which may harm the public health and the environment. Environmental quality standards for these compartments are generally considered separately. However, the compartments are related to each other by the fluxes between them, and the concept of sustainability should hold for all compartments simultaneously. An integrated approach is therefore required for the sustainability assessment of irrigation with marginal water. Since such an approach has not been provided yet, we develop an integrated framework in this study. We provide sustainability indicators by comparing the long-term contaminant concentration and fluxes with quality standards for each environmental compartment. These indicators give comprehensible information on which contaminants will cause problems, which environmental compartments are threatened, and on what timescale this will occur. This allows for the prioritization of mitigation and preventive measures for better sustainability management. We illustrate the use of the framework by means of a case study.


  • Freshwater scarcity is a growing global problem due to population growth, urbanization, and climate change [1,2]

  • If standards are lacking for some of the environmental compartments, application of our framework is biased. This may in some cases be a lesser bias, but in some cases be profound, for instance if the pathway without quality standards is of great concern

  • It can be observed that the plateau, is reached within a year for most contaminants. This means that if any violation of quality standards will occur for these contaminants, this will happen within a year

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Freshwater scarcity is a growing global problem due to population growth, urbanization, and climate change [1,2]. The population in water-stressed regions was estimated at 700 million in 2006, and growing [3]. Alternative water resources are needed to reduce the pressure on existing freshwater resources. Since agriculture is responsible for 70% of freshwater use [4], irrigating with marginal water significantly reduces the pressure on freshwater sources. Marginal water is re-used for irrigating urban greens as parks and sport fields [5]. Wastewater irrigation has recently received increased attention in temperate climates to mitigate future water stress due to climate change [6]. While freshwater scarcity is the main driving force for irrigation with marginal water, there are additional benefits. Current treatment technologies are not designed to remove contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) [9]


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