The use of sprinklers and furrow irrigation frequently results in significant volumes of run-off, also referred to as tail water. Although vegetable growers have made much progress in reducing irrigation run-off by using drip lines, overhead sprinklers are needed for germinating and establishing crops, and for watering high-density leafy greens such as spinach and baby greens. Also, a significant number of acres of lettuce and other vegetables are irrigated by furrow after crop establishment. Many Central Coast ranches have infrastructure for reusing tail water for irrigating crops, including sediment basins, reservoirs, and pumping systems. Currently growers are reluctant to irrigate crops with tail water due to a lack of information on microbial food safety risks. Several options exist for reusing run-off water, which may minimize microbial food safety risks for produce. Tail water could be used for irrigation practices that do not result in direct contact with the crop, such as pre-irrigation and germination, as well as for dust control of unpaved roads. Tail water could be reused for crops on drip. Other options include treating run-off by chlorination or other means to kill microbial pathogens, and blending tail water with a clean water source so that microbial levels meet industry or regulatory target levels for surface water. The objectives of this project will be to: 1) monitor, characterize and quantify microbial populations in run-off water from Central Coast vegetable fields; 2) evaluate the risk of using this water source for the production of lettuce and other leafy green crops by quantifying survival of microorganisms during reuse applications; and 3) evaluate economically-feasible methods to treat tail water that would minimize microbial food safety risks for a range of reuse applications (e.g., pre-irrigation, dust control, irrigation).The food safety risk of reusing run-off water needs to be evaluated in commercial vegetable fields under conventional irrigation practices. Our project would address this need, and develop information on the food safety risks associated with re-using run-off water for leafy green production.
Microbial food safety risks of reusing tail water for leafy green production
Cahn, Michael; Koike, Steven; Harris, Linda
University of California Cooperative Extension, Monterey County