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Reclaimed water produces the right bouquet

People may turn up their noses at the thought of using reclaimed water, but a study by the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) has found that it is not just an alternative source of water for crops, but may be more beneficial than mains water. Dr Belinda Rawnsley, who led the three-year $350,000 study funded by the Grape and Wine Research Development Corporation, says it’s wonderful news for vignerons and horticulturists looking for viable and sustainable irrigation. “I think this is the way of the future, particularly for the viticulture industry, which is desperate for alternative water supplies,” Rawnsley said. “Reclaimed water is potentially a major sustainable source of water for irrigation within the industry which brings with it the major benefits of alleviating pressure on our valuable water resources and reducing the amount of discharge of nutrients into the sea.” Dr Rawnsley’s work has focused on a vineyard at McLaren Vale which was established when reclaimed water first became available in the Willunga Basin region through the Willunga Basin Water Company in 1999. “This vineyard has used reclaimed water, from day one, in a trial specifically set up to compare mains and reclaimed water for irrigation of vines. Earlier and ongoing studies by SARDI’s Mike McCarthy have shown there is no difference in yield between vines irrigated with reclaimed or mains water,” Rawnsley said. “My study was the first to look at the effect of using reclaimed water, if any, on soil biology. I fully expected to find that there would be more soil borne pathogens or diseases and higher levels of microbial activity. “However, there were actually less pathogens in the soil which is good, and there were indeed higher levels of microbial activity. This is also a great finding because the higher levels of microbes improve nutrient transfer to the vine,” she said. The Willunga Basin Water Company (WBWC) takes treated water from SA Water’s Christies Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant, 10km north of the Willunga Basin and pumps it via 70km of pipeline to more than 90 users whose properties cover more than 1500ha. The Christies Beach plant treats about 10,000ML of wastewater a year and about a third of that is being used by the WBWC for irrigators. The remaining treated wastewater is pumped out to sea. The WBWC will eventually have the capacity to take most of the wastewater from the plant.

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