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Environ Monit Assess. 2010 Aug;167(1-4):423-35. doi: 10.1007/s10661-009-1061-z. Epub 2009 Jul 8.

Impacts of intensive agricultural irrigation and livestock farming on a semi-arid Mediterranean catchment.

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Department of Agroforestry Engineering, School of Agricultural and Forestry Engineering, University of Lleida, Av. Alcalde Rovira Roure, 191, 25198, Lleida, Spain,


Irrigation return flows (IRF) are a major contributor of non-point source pollution to surface and groundwater. We evaluated the effects of irrigation on stream hydrochemistry in a Mediterranean semi-arid catchment (Flumen River, NE Spain). The Flumen River was separated into two zones based on the intensity of irrigation activities in the watershed. General linear models were used to compare the two zones. Relevant covariables (urban sewage, pig farming, and gypsum deposits in the basin) were quantified with the help of geographic information system techniques, accompanied by ground-truthing. High variability of the water quality parameters and temporal dynamics caused by irrigation were used to distinguish the two river reaches. Urban activity and livestock farming had a significant effect on water chemistry. An increase in the concentration of salts (240-541 more in winter) and nitrate (average concentrations increased from 8.5 to 20.8 mg.l(-1) during irrigation months) was associated with a higher level of IRF. Those river reaches more strongly influenced by urban areas tended to have higher phosphorus (0.19-0.42 mg.l(-1) more in winter) concentrations. These results support earlier research about the significant consequences to water quality of both urban expansion and intensive agricultural production in arid and semi-arid regions. Data also indicate that salinization of soils, subsoils, surface water, and groundwater can be an unwelcome result of the application of pig manure for fertilization (increase in sodium concentration in 77.9 to 138.6 mg.l(-1)).

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