Remediating the Adverse Effects of Treated Wastewater Irrigation by Repeated On-Surface Surfactant Application

Felix A. Ogunmokun, Rony Wallach*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The use of treated wastewater (TWW) has gained recognition as an alternative source for freshwater irrigation, and is steadily expanding worldwide. Despite the benefits of freshwater conservation and nutrient richness, there is mounting evidence of TWW adverse effects on soil, yield, and the environment. Irrigation using TWW has resulted in soil water repellency, in which preferential flow pathways and uneven soil water and chemical distribution occur. These increase deep water percolation and chemical leaching, which can lead to soil and groundwater pollution. This study was conducted in a commercial citrus orchard grown on sandy-loam soil in central Israel and irrigated with TWW, with the aim of investigating the remediation of these adverse effects, by repeatedly spraying a nonionic surfactant on the soil surface. The surfactant application succeeded to turn the soil wettable, diminishing the preferential flow pathways, and rendering the soil water and dissolved chemicals uniformly distributed. The overall water content in the 0–40 cm layer increased, and deep percolation and chemical leaching substantially decreased. The grapefruit yield increase during the two-year study period increased the water use efficiency. Electrical resistance tomography scans executed during and after irrigation events for two subsequent years revealed that a “soil memory” phenomenon has been developed for water repellent soils, where water flow takes place through previously developed preferential flow pathways in such soils. This study demonstrates that recurrent surfactant application enables a continuous use of TWW, while eliminating most of its prejudicial effects.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere2020WR029429
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by The Plant Production and Marketing Board, Israel, and Mehadrin, Citrus Growers and Exporters, Israel–Project Number 821‐0132‐11.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


  • on-surface surfactant
  • preferential flow pathways
  • treated wastewater
  • water repellent soil


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