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article imageFlorida's Citrus Orchards Benefit From Reclaimed Wastewater

By Bob Ewing     Jul 22, 2008 in Food
Studies confirm that the amount of wastewater generated by cities in Florida has increased more than fivefold since 1950.
Over the past 50 years the state of Florida has experienced rapid growth. From 1950 t0 200, the state population grew more than five and a half times, according to the 1997 census.
As the population increases, so does the amount of municipal waste. For example, the amount of wastewater generated by cities in Florida has increased more than fivefold since 1950.
The pollution of surface waters by treated wastewater has caused many communities to consider alternate ways to use secondary-treated, or reclaimed wastewater. Prior to 1986, the city of Orlando and Orange County were discharging wastewater into a creek that flows into Lake Tohopekaliga in central Florida.
City and county officials, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, devised a plan to use the wastewater for agricultural irrigation.
A 2005 report produced by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, states there are currently 440 "reclaimed water reuse systems" in Florida, irrigating thousands of acres of golf courses, public land, and residential landscapes with 2,385 million liters of reclaimed water per day.
Some of Florida's world-renowned citrus orchards are being irrigated by wastewater. Annual rainfall in Florida is seasonal and 75% of annual rainfall usually occurs between June and September, citrus growers rely on supplemental irrigation for healthy citrus crops.
The City of Orlando and Orange County (FL) supported a study that saw researchers set out to determine whether long-term irrigation with treated municipal wastewater reduced citrus tree health, (appearance and leaf nutrient content), decreased fruit loads, impacted fruit quality, or created increases in soil contaminants.
Dr. Kelly T. Morgan, a scientist at the University of Florida's, Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, published the study report in the April, 2008 issue of HortScience.
Dr. Morgan explained, "Increased water use by the growing population and localized water shortages during low rainfall years have resulted in the development of water use restrictions and decreases in permitted water use for agriculture. Increased use of reclaimed water for agricultural irrigation would not only reduce the wastewater disposal problem for urban areas, but could also reduce the amount of water withdrawn from Florida's aquifers used for irrigation."
The yearly monitoring project started in the 1990s and ended in 2004, and concluded using reclaimed water for irrigation of citrus orchards showed few detrimental effects on the orchards.
Morgan commented, "Appearance of trees irrigated with reclaimed water was usually better, with higher canopy, leaf color, and fruit crop ratings than orchards irrigated with groundwater. Although there was higher weed growth in reclaimed water-irrigated orchards due to higher soil water content, growers apparently have made adequate adjustments to their herbicide practices."
Long-term citrus irrigation with high-quality reclaimed water on well-drained sandy soils did not significantly reduce tree viability or yield and required relatively little adjustment in crop production practices. This conclusion is good news for the environment and citrus producers alike.
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