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Reuse urban wastewater to increase irrigation efficiency in India: Israeli irrigation expert
Lack of sufficient rain has turned Indian agriculture experts towards irrigation techniques such as wastewater management and desalination, which are extensively used in Israel.

While major dams in the state are holding water to their maximum capacity, at least 10 districts are still facing prospects of drought owing to deficit rainfall in the past two months.


From June to July, 67 taluks in districts such as Bidar, Bijapur, Gulbarga, Raichur and Yadgir have recorded deficit rainfall in the range of -20 per cent to -59 per cent of normal rainfall, according to Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre.


Is there hope for rains? The latest agromet advisory issued by the Meteorological Department says: “No significant change.”


With natural water resources failing, the state could look up to Israel, a country that has used various techniques to counter drought in the past five decades despite its terrain being 60 per cent desert.


Israel’s climate is Mediterranean, with precipitation levels as high as 1,000 mm in the north and as low as 30 mm in the south. While it rains mostly during winters, the farmers have to irrigate during the remainder of the year.


Director of Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research of the Ben-Gurion University in Negev desert, Israel, Mr. Pedro Berliner, gives an insight on how irrigation is carried out with little rain.


“Over the last 50 years, what has been done is to improve the way water is applied to crops to minimize its use and increase the yield at the same time. Importantly, 80 per cent of Israel’s urban waste water is treated and reused for agriculture and more than half of the water used today for agriculture is this,” the dry land agriculture expert told Express.


This method, Mr. Berliner said, has added considerable volumes of water to Israel’s irrigation schemes, besides adding to a small list of available water resources that includes a large reservoir in the lake of Galilee, where water is stored and conveyed throughout the country.


“Quite a number of the urban wastewater treatment plants are closer to smaller cities and locally used. This is an approach that I think would increase the amount of water when natural underground and surface water resources are not enough,” he added.


Trickle or drip irrigation plays a great role in increasing the efficiency of water application, which if done properly, can ensure the best conditions for plant development and maximum yield. Interestingly, the farmers in Israel have a solution to the problem of drip irrigation water evaporating.


“When you water a crop, you are also watering the soil surface and water will evaporate. The water that is lost directly to the atmosphere is of no use to the crop as it does not reach the roots. We have developed a simple yet efficient technique, in which the area between the rows of crops are covered by materials with different chemical properties in order to decrease the amount of water lost due to evaporation, thereby increasing water use efficiency,” he said.


According to a recent research paper authored by Dr Prodipto Ghosh and Dr Girija Bharat from The Energy and Resources Institute, the agricultural sector consumes over 80 per cent of the water resources in India, with irrigation efficiency at just 35 per cent.


The paper also states that only 16 per cent of farmers are aware of irrigation efficiency techniques.


Water is a property of the state in Israel, Mr. Berliner said. Water pumping policies are decided by government agencies and not individual farmers, ensuring that there is no drop in the water table.


In Mandya alone, according to Registrar Mr. M B Rajegowda of University of Agricultural Sciences Bangalore, more than half of irrigation water is wasted.


Asked if a similar legislation would work here, Mr. Berliner was cautious. “It would be best technically but may not be feasible politically,” he said.


Israel has also taken the lead in desalination, a technique that allows farmers to use water directly from the sea by removing the salt content.


Karnataka government has set aside `11,349 crore for major and minor irrigation projects, mostly based on river canals.


Mr. Rajegowda welcomed the idea of using wastewater for irrigation, but lamented the lack of political will.


“We need politicians who are willing to take such drastic measures. Another problem would be the initial investment. It would require creating channels and laying of pipes and so on. But it can certainly be done,” he added.


Source: New India Express


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