In many studies worldwide the use of treated sewage effluents (TSE) as water and nutrient sources in agricultural irrigation have been introduced as a viable alternative for wastewater destination in the environment. Considering agronomic and environmental aspects the objectives of this review were: (i) to present an overview of TSE irrigation on different agro-systems (annual crops, orchards, forests and forages); and (ii) to show the principal changes on chemical, physical and microbiological soil characteristics after TSE application. Various studies have revealed that the nutrient supply only by TSE irrigation was not sufficient to meet plant nutrient requirements resulting in yield decreases. The problem could be solved by an adapted effluent/fertilizer management. Moreover, TSE could generally substitute efficiently freshwater for irrigation. Regarding soil quality conditions, TSE irrigation affected mainly: (i) total soil carbon and nitrogen, and mineral nitrogen in soil solution; (ii) microbial activity, composition of microbial communities and their function; (iii) exchangeable calcium and magnesium; (iv) salinity, sodicity, clay dispersion and hydraulic conductivity. Other soil parameters considered in this review (e.g. heavy metals) did not present significant changes over short and medium terms. Due to the often observed accumulation of sodium and nitrogen losses (leaching, volatilization and denitrification) after TSE irrigation, the monitoring of these components is of crucial importance for a sustainable use. Finally, further studies on the technical-economical-environmental viability of TSE irrigation are required to establish reliable recommendations for TSE use particularly in Brazilian agro-systems.
wastewater; water reuse; nutrient source; agriculture; environmental impact