WaterProtect gives detailed insight in groundwater quality, point source pollution prevention measures in preparation

A long and detailed monitoring campaign established by WaterProtect delivered detailed information on the groundwater quality in Val Tidone. The presence of residues of plant production products can be linked to the improper filling and cleaning of spraying equipment. A constructive dialogue with winegrowers and farmers in the area regarding spraying practices was set up. The local project partners are now striving for a mobile cleaning and filling station for the farmers in Val Tidone.

While earlier monitoring campaigns by the environmental agency ARPAE-ER already indicated a non-adequate quality of the ground water mainly due to the presence of plant protection products (PPP) and nutrients, there was a clear need for a more continuous and in dept monitoring in Val Tidone.

WaterProtect realized 26 new sampling points, that are representative for the groundwater quality in the unconfined aquifer where both quality and quantity was monitored. This ‘superficial’ groundwater layer is commonly used for agricultural and irrigation use. The monitoring was also done in three water wells for drinking water and started in November 2017. The samples were analysed on nitrates and residues of 15 pesticides commonly used in viticulture. Other sampling parameters were pH, conductivity, groundwater level, hydrogen isotopes, oxygen and nitrogen, copper and the water temperature. The monitoring started in November 2017.

Dr. Nicoleta Suciu form Action lab lead partner Università del Sacro Cuore is coordinating the project in Val Tidone and was  recently interviewed by the Italian magazine VVQ (Vigne, Vini & Qualità).  The following interview is based on the interview published in VVQ.

What do the results of the monitoring campaign show?

“The results of our sampling points show substances that don’t need to be there. On the other side: the drinking water wells that were sampled didn’t show any pollution. Our data indicate that there is no widespread pollution, but this is an indication over time. This means, that in general the agricultural practices in the area are correct and that the operators act according to what they were taught during Phyto license course. But apparently there are sometimes practices that are not in line with the good practices guidelines.

To get a deeper insight of the situation and to identify the probable sources of pollution, we were able to establish a sincere dialogue. This enabled us to propose targeted mitigation and protection measures for our water sources to the winegrowers and -makers. I sincerely thank all the trade associations and organizations that were involved in our project. Without their support this was impossible.

Can you give more details about the sources of pollution?

“In dialogue with local stakeholders, we emphasized the importance of Good Agricultural Practices and focused on the effectiveness of the right mitigation measures. This led to some interesting findings: the structure of the vineyards - small, fragmented and bordering - and the specific topographic characteristics of the region in combination with the fact that the used spraying equipment is not always state of the art technology sometimes makes the correct application of standard mitigation measures difficult and leads to point source pollutions.

But foremost, we believe that these point source pollutions originate from inadequate attention during the preparation of the substance preparations. Every winemaker knows the good practices to limit the environmental impact of the substance preparations, because they are described in the training courses for the phytosanitary licenses. Some winegrowers underestimate the impact of small spills when cleaning or filling their spraying equipment. If these point source pollutions happen repeatedly, however, this leads to considerable traces of residues in the water.

Thanks to our dialogue, we hope that the involved farmers are now aware of this and understand that a strict compliance with the good practices of phytosanitary products is an absolute necessity.”

What measures do you propose to limit this type of impact?

“The proposal of WaterProtect is to create a mobile cleaning pitch in a suitable location, where wine growers can wash their spraying equipment and prepare their mixtures safely and according to all the best management practices. This pitch will be equipped with an impermeable base that collects the waste water. The waste water can than be collected in container and delivered to specialized company for handling.

What does this pitch require in terms of management and use?

The mobile pitch is easy and safe to manage. The operator does not come into contact with waste water. The cleaning water can be collected through an immersion pump or through dedicated wells and placed in the appropriate containers that will then be delivered or withdrawn.

Is this the first pitch of this kind in Italy?

Although it is already in use at some Tuscan farms and wineries, it is not very common. In Europe it is often used in France. For our region, it is a real novelty and this pitch could have an important demonstration role. We also plan to organise practical demonstrations for the farmers as soon as it is installed. Since the pitch is mobile, it could be used by several farmers and winegrowers if necessary. When the season is over it can also be dismantled and stored.

But there is more. We also plan other actions to take on point source pollution. There are phytosanitary waste water treatment kits that work very well and that are commonly used by winegrowers in other countries. This avoids the need to have the waste water treated by external specialized companies, thus limiting the costs for our local wine businesses. We should also know that it is currently very difficult to obtain permits for this type of waste water treatment.

And of course we keep on setting up training and dissemination events that promote the good practices regarding the use of plant protection products. Because we know that every action has impact in the field. We are also preparing efforts to disseminate on a regional and national scale about our work in Val Tidone. We also sincerely hope that the implementation of the best management practices for the protection of water resources are taken over in other regions of Italy. We aim to involve all stakeholders, from farmers to organisations that are responsible for water monitoring and want to create shared information platforms. We will also be using information from our European partners.

How is the WaterProtect project and its actions and results received by the local winemakers?

This project has really demonstrated the importance of collective action to try to improve the water quality in the region. The results we achieved would not have been possible without the willingness and the efforts of all the viticultural stakeholders in Val Tidone and of the regional stakeholders with whom we collaborated. Collaboration and dialogue is key to book results.”