Following the water: Characterising de facto wastewater reuse in agriculture in the Netherlands

Jack E. Beard, Marc F.P. Bierkens, Ruud P. Bartholomeus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


De facto (or indirect) wastewater reuse is the practice of extracting from surface water bodies which are impacted by treated wastewater (TWW) for anthropogenic use. The extent to which surface water bodies in the Netherlands are impacted by TWW is poorly understood, and the distribution of de facto reuse even more so. This study addresses these knowledge gaps, with a focus on reuse for agricultural irrigation. This is achieved via a novel application of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) Explorer water quality model, allowing for the distribution of different flow components-namely TWW and flow from transboundary rivers-to be discerned for the national surface water network. When paired with data on surface water extractions for irrigation, this identifies notable areas of de facto reuse. Results show that during dry conditions, TWW is a significant flow component in many surface water bodies, particularly in smaller streams located close to WWTPs. De facto reuse is indicated as widespread, with several key areas identified in which extractions are from impacted surface water bodies. This study represents a first attempt to directly link TWW emissions to agricultural irrigation, highlighting a mechanism by which wastewater-associated contaminants can propagate through the hydrological system.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5936
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2019


  • Circular economy
  • Drought
  • Irrigation
  • Wastewater reuse
  • Water quality

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