Wastewater Reuse for Olive Irrigation (OLIVE-WASTEWATER)

Wastewater Reuse for Olive Irrigation (OLIVE-WASTEWATER)

Demonstration Site description

The site is located in Southern Italy (Ferrandina Municipality, Matera Province, 40°29'51.74"N 16°27'27.25"E). Since 1999, the municipal wastewater is treated by means of a prototype operating with an innovative treatment process. The innovation allows the protection of certain compounds/nutrients (such as organic matter and nitrogen) during the wastewater depuration, so that they can be used as fertilizing substances. The innovated process allow also the reduction of the economic cost due to the disposal of biological sludge as end-product of standard treatment processes. The recycled wastewater is then conveyed through a dedicated pipeline to a close olive orchard and supplied by drip irrigation. The olive grove combines additional sustainable management practices (no-tillage, retention of crop pruning residuals) aimed to increase soil water holding capacity and tolerance to erosion.

Results obtained so far

At field scale the main results obtained are the following:

-  Improvement of soil fertility (soil structure; water holding capacity; mineral element availability along soil profile) and reduction of mineral fertilization input;

-  Reduction of soil erosion processes;

-  Improvement of plant productivity and commercially valuable fruit parameters;

-  Improvement of farmer’s income and consequent social and environmental advantages (reduction of migration, control activity on the territory by the olive farmers, landscape conservation).

Success factors

  • Relevance of the theme;
  • Uniqueness of such a long-term experience in Italy and (to our knowledge) in Europe);
  • Dissemination actions performed since experiment start by means of seminars; open days; visits to the experimental orchard; Regional, National and International congress attendance; publications at National and International level;
  • Direct involvement of the different actors involved (farmers, policy makers, researchers, technicians). 

Performance indicators

Indicators for the efficiency of the orchard management (wastewater use + sustainable soil management techniques):

  • Soil – Water – Fruit chemical, physical and microbiological analyses;
  • Yield measurement and fruit quality.

Indicators for the efficiency of project result disseminations:

  • Number of participants to seminars, open days, visits to the experimental orchard;
  • Number of publications at National and International level.

Repeatability & Applicability

The results of this project are very consolidated and have an high repeatability in many European country .
The reuse of wastewater, tested at field scale (less than 1 hectare), could be applied at larger scale. Small villages (around 10,000 inhabitants) located in hilly marginal areas and served by a wastewater treatment infrastructure can be the opportune contexts to apply such model within sustainable economic margins. We hypothesized the model application to the territory of Ferrandina municipality (about 9500 inhabitants) making the existent depuration treatment scheme suitable for wastewater disinfection by low cost simplified schemes (non in accordance with the Italian Technical Guidelines for Wastewater Reuse) and its distribution for the safe irrigation of olives. Particularly, the plant is placed on the top of the hill allowing water distribution to the olive orchards on the hill slopes by gravity (no water pumping costs). Considering the seasonal irrigation need of an olive orchard, it could be possible to irrigate more than 200 ha. The Regional Government will financially support that large-scale adoption of technology used at the site through a dedicate Project.

Further references


Scientific publications

Dichio B., Palese AM, Montanaro G., Xylogiannis E., Sofo A., 2014. A Preliminary Assessment of Water Footprint Components in a Mediterranean Olive Grove. ACTA HORTICULTURAE, 1038: 671-676

Lopez A., Pollice A., Lonigro A., Masi S., Palese A.M., Cirelli G.L., Toscano A., Passino R., 2006. Agricultural Wastewater Reuse in Southern Italy. Desalination, 187: 323 –334.

Palese A.M., Pasquale V., Celano G., Figliuolo G., Masi S., Xiloyannis C., 2009. Irrigation of olive groves in Southern Italy with treated municipal wastewater: effects on microbiological quality of soil and fruits. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 129: 43-51.

Bedbabis S., Palese A.M., Ben Rouina B., Boukhris M., Rhouma A., Gargouri K., 2009. The effect of irrigation by treated wastewater on “Chemlali” olive oil quality. Journal of Food Quality, Vol. 32, 2: 141-157.

Sofo A., Palese A.M., Casacchia T., Celano G., Ricciuti P., Curci M., Crecchio C., Xiloyannis C., 2010. Genetic, functional, and metabolic responses of soil microbiota in a sustainable olive orchard. Soil Science, 175 (2):81-88.

Palese A.M., Pergola M., Favia M., Xiloyannis C., Celano G., 2013. A sustainable model for the management of olive orchards located in semi-arid marginal areas: some remarks and indications for policy makers. Environmental Science and Policy, 27: 81-90.

Pergola M., Favia M., Palese A.M., Perretti B., Xiloyannis C., Celano G., 2013. A proposal for an alternative management of olive orchards grown under semi-arid conditions: an energy, economic and environmental analyses. Scientia Horticulturae, 162: 380-386.

Palese A.M., Schettini C., Dichio B., 2002. Acque reflue urbane depurate per l’irrigazione dell’olivo. L’Informatore Agrario, 48: 81-84.



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