Welcome to the “Oilfield Produced Water for Crop Irrigation in California” web site!


A USDA-NIFA funded project

As severe droughts limit irrigation water availability in many U.S. watersheds, demand for irrigation efficiency and alternative water sources increases. Oilfield produced water (OPW), a byproduct of oil extraction, has been used in Central California for years. However, permitted OPW uses may change in the future based on food and water regulations, with growers concerned about crop health and sufficient irrigation water, while consumers are concerned about and food safety. While U.S. OPW production is projected to increase, beneficial irrigation use is hindered by a current lack of publicly available, peer-reviewed scientific evidence on its safety.

Goal – This integrated project aims to provide data-driven and risk-based evidence to evaluate human health risks associated with OPW use for produce irrigation, with a focus on potential chemicals in OPW from California oilfields.

Approach – The study includes four interdisciplinary research modules: (1) Screening of existing OPW quality datasets (metals, salts, radionuclides), (2) Sampling and analyzing water, soil, and crops at farms using OPW, (3) Assessing health risks of foodborne and incidental exposure to OWP-associated metals, (4) Translating risk estimates into watershed-scale policy scenarios. A strong extension component will engage stakeholders in risk/benefit and watershed governance training. Case studies will be incorporated into university curriculum on the energy-water-food nexus.

Significance – Study outcomes seek to advance the evidence base needed for risk-based policy on the safe use of OPW for irrigation, ensuring continued productivity in drought-stricken watersheds.

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