, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 27-34

Long term use of saline water for irrigation

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Use of saline drainage water in irrigated agriculture, as a means of its disposal, was evaluated on a 60 ha site on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. In the drip irrigation treatments, 50 to 59% of the irrigation water applied during the six-year rotation was saline with an ECw ranging from 7 to 8 dS/m, and containing 5 to 7 mg/L boron and 220 to 310 μg/L total selenium. Low salinity water with an ECw of 0.4 to 0.5 dS/m and B ≈ 0.4 mg/1 was used to irrigate the furrow plots from 1982 to 1985 after which a blend of good quality water and saline drainage water was used. A six-year rotation of cotton, cotton, cotton, wheat, sugar beet and cotton was used. While the cotton and sugar beet yields were not affected during the initial six years, the levels of boron (B) in the soil became quite high and were accumulated in plant tissue to near toxic levels. During the six year period, for treatments surface irrigated with saline drainage water or a blend of saline and low salinity water, the B concentration in the soil increased throughout the 1.5 m soil profile while the electrical conductivity (ECe) increased primarily in the upper l m of the profile. Increaszs in soil ECe during the entire rotation occurred on plots where minimal leaching was practiced. Potential problems with germination and seedling establishment associated with increased surface soil salinity were avoided by leaching with rainfall and low-salinity pre-plant irrigations of 150 mm or more. Accumulation of boron and selenium poses a major threat to the sustainability of agriculture if drainage volumes are to be reduced by using drainage water for irrigation. This is particularly true in areas where toxic materials (salt, boron, other toxic minor elements) cannot be removed from the irrigated area. Continual storage within the root zone of the cropped soil is not sustainable.