Opportunities for Treatment and Reuse of Agricultural Drainage in the United States
Irrigation accounts for 42% of the total freshwater withdrawals in the United States. Climate change, the pressure of a growing population, degrading water quality, and increased competition from other sectors could constrain continuous supply to meet future agricultural water demand. This study presents an evaluation framework to assess the potential reuse of agricultural drainage water for crop irrigation. Using a regional approach, we review the current state of agricultural drainage treatment and reuse and the institutional, economic, and other barriers that can influence the reuse decision. In the 31 eastern states, agricultural drainage contains valuable nutrients that can be reused for irrigation with minimal treatment, while the 17 western states struggle with large volumes of saline drainage that can contain constituents of concern (e.g., selenium), preventing reuse without treatment. Using a new decision-support tool called WaterTAP3, a potential treatment train for saline agricultural drainage was analyzed to identify treatment challenges, research needs, and the potential implementation at a larger scale. As demonstrated by our case study, desalination of agricultural drainage is costly and energy intensive and will require sizable investments to fully develop and optimize technologies as well as manage the generated waste and brine.