Professor says desalinated water can harm crops

A newly-published paper in Science magazine by Dr. Alon Tal of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), and several other Israeli scientists, reveals that desalinated water lacks many essential plant nutrients and is more harmful than helpful in irrigating certain crops. While water experts thought that the desalinated water's low mineral content was beneficial to crops, the new research reveals that it is, in fact, damaging to plants like tomatoes, basil and certain varieties of flowers...

• Ben-Gurion University of the Negev professor reveals that desalinated water, frequently used in irrigation, lacks essential plant nutrients

NEW YORK, Nov. 20, 2007 -- A newly-published paper in Science magazine by Dr. Alon Tal of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), and several other Israeli scientists, reveals that desalinated water lacks many essential plant nutrients and is more harmful than helpful in irrigating certain crops.

While water experts thought that the desalinated water's low mineral content was beneficial to crops, the new research reveals that it is, in fact, damaging to plants like tomatoes, basil and certain varieties of flowers. These crops suffer developmental damage due to a lack of magnesium and physiological defects from calcium deficiency in the water. According to the study, "Rethinking Desalinated Water Quality and Agriculture," if these crops are planted above ground or in sand, they suffer even more, as they do not receive supplementary nutrients from the soil (Science 9 Nov. 2007 Vol. 318. no. 5852, pp. 920 - 921).

Dr. Alon Tal, a world-renowned environmental advocate, is a professor at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research on the Sede Boqer Campus of BGU. The University has a world renowned reputation in water technology and has unrelated to this study been extremely successful in growing a wide range of crops, including olives and wine grapes, using brackish (low saline) water. BGU is also a pioneer in desert aquaculture and reuses water from fish pools for irrigation as well.

Commenting on the Science paper, Tal explains, "Desalinized water is essential for sustainable development in our region. Since agriculture is already beginning to utilize desalinized water and as there are cost-effective ways of providing water for human consumption, as well as water with the minerals which can nourish tomato and other critical produce, new standards need to be immediately adapted for water planning. The fact that Ministry of Agriculture scientists were on the research team is extremely important."

Tal believes, "desalination is a technology whose time has come. Israel's ability to produce 1,000 liters of pure water for less than 55 cents suggests that old axioms about water scarcity need to be reconsidered. No rational person can argue today that the next war in the Middle East will be over water, when for $150 million dollars yearly, we can already produce all the water that is presently in controversy between Israel and the Palestinians. And that price will surely come down. So by no means are we arguing in this paper against the use of desalinized water."

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is a world-renowned institute of research and higher learning with five campuses in Israel's southern desert.

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