Modelling Regional Hotspots of Water Pollution Induced by Salinization

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Marcus Malsy and Martina Floerke, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany
Insufficient water quality is one of the main global topics causing risk to human health, biodiversity, and food security. At this, salinization of water and land resources is widely spread especially in arid to semi-arid climates, where salinization, often induced by irrigation agriculture, is a fundamental aspect of land degradation. High salinity is crucial to water use for drinking, irrigation, and industrial purposes, and therefore poses a risk to human health and ecosystem status. However, salinization is also an economic problem, in particular in those regions where agriculture makes a significant contribution to the economy and/or where agriculture is mainly based on irrigation. Agricultural production is exposed to high salinity of irrigation water resulting in lower yields. Hence, not only the quantity of irrigation water is of importance for growing cops but also its quality, which may further reduce the available resources. Thereby a major concern for food production and security persists, as irrigated agriculture accounts for over 30% of the total agricultural production.

In this study, the large scale water quality model WorldQual was applied to simulate recent total dissolved solids (TDS) loadings and in-stream concentrations from point and diffuse sources to get an insight on potential environmental impacts as well as risks to food security. Regional focus in this study is on developing countries, as these are most threatened by water pollution. Furthermore, insufficient water quality for irrigation and therefore restrictions in irrigation water use were examined, indicating limitations to crop production. For this purpose, model simulations were conducted for the year 2010 to show the recent status of surface water quality and to identify hotspots and main causes of pollution.

Our results show that salinity hotspots mainly occur in peak irrigation regions as irrigated agriculture is by far the dominant sector contributing to water abstractions as well as TDS loadings. Additionally, large urban areas are initially loading hotspots and pollution prevention becomes important as point sources are dependent on sewer connection rates. River discharge plays a crucial role due to the dilution potential, especially in semi-arid to arid regions and in terms of seasonal variability.