Farms urged to utilize water reuse
CAMBRIDGE, Md. — The percentage of water on Earth available for human use is infinitesimal — between 0.01 and 0.30 percent — and demand for it continues to rise. It’s a serious issue for everyone, including farmers.
“We need reliable alternatives,” said Rachel Goldstein, a University of Maryland assistant research professor specializing in environmental health, on Feb. 26.
Water reuse is one of those alternatives. It’s already popular across the planet and in other parts of the country, Goldstein said at an agricultural water reuse workshop at Eastern Shore Hospital Center.
She and several other university educators were there with CONSERVE, or the Center of Excellence at the Nexus of Sustainable Water Reuse, Food and Health, part of the university’s School of Public Health.
Water reuse, which Maryland’s government is trying to encourage, repurposes treated wastewater and pumps it straight to the farm instead of into a stream or river where it could pick up environmental contaminants from animal feces or sediment before flowing to an accessible point near the farm, according to university literature. Water reuse can keep excess nutrients from the Bay and, most importantly for farmers, boost yields.
“It’s providing water where there might not have been water before, which means you can grow more,” Goldstein said.
Franklin Dill of Piccadilly Farm in Kent County, Md., is one example. After struggling with low yields during periods of drought, he hooked up with the nearby Worton-Butlertown wastewater treatment plant, which had been searching for farmers to partner with.
“It seemed like we had a drought every other year,” Dill said.
Farmers in the area were reluctant to work with the plant out of fear that the wastewater was unsafe to use with their crops. Dill, who said he doesn’t have a significant source of water beneath his fields, decided the system would work for his soybeans and corn, according to university literature. The plant features an advanced wastewater treatment system that uses membrane filtration and ultraviolet light to treat effluent.
After the necessary permits were obtained, the treatment plant spent $3 million building the piping and irrigation system using county, state and grant funding. Dill decides when he needs the wastewater, but the plant manages delivery. He said he’s seen corn yield increase in parts of his farm from 115 bushels per acre to 205.
“It’s better for the environment to apply it to the farm instead of putting it in the Bay,” said Cory Boynton, who operates the wastewater treatment plant.
But farmers will also need to contend with consumers’ feelings about the practice, a subject being studied by Mark Kecinski, a behavioral economist at the University of Delaware. Consumers have no problem with recycled water — but only if its benefits are explained, he said. Without that explanation, they like recycled water less.
“Possible areas for future exploration identified by (the university) include normalizing water reuse among consumers by sharing this type of information at farm stands or farmers markets,” according to university literature. “There may also be an opportunity to educate distributors about recycled water. Distributors may be in a better position to change marketing and branding on products sold in retail establishments.”
Most water reuse projects in the county are in California and Florida where the vast majority of recycled water is dedicated to agriculture. Maryland farmers may need to join them eventually. The groundwater level in half of all wells in the state declined between 2000 and 2016.
“Reclaimed water is good for farmers,” Dill said.
For more information about recycled water in agriculture, including fact sheets and videos, visit www.conservewaterforfood.org.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925