Geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing techniques are used as a decision support system to identify potential soil aquifer treatment (SAT) sites for groundwater recharge of Kerman aquifer, which is located in the southeast of Iran. These sites are identified using a single-objective multi-criteria analysis. To ensure technical feasibility, environmental sustainability, social acceptability and economical viability a number of criteria are considered for the site selection. The criteria selected for the different variables and acceptable ranges are based on standards published in national and international guidelines and technical documents. Multi-criteria evaluation was performed combining all produced thematic maps by means of the weighted index overlay method in order to select sites meeting all the criteria. The resulting map of this analysis shows potential sites are located in the north, southwest and southeast of the study area. Considering field observations, a potential site, which is located in the southwest of the study area, is proposed as the most suitable site for SAT. The result indicates that the study area has sufficient required suitable space for groundwater recharge with treated wastewater.

INTRODUCTION

Water is a vital resource necessary for all aspects of human life and ecosystems. In recent years water scarcity and contamination have increased alarmingly, making it unlikely that the water requirement of a rapidly growing population will be met (Engleman & LeRoy 1993; Gleick 1993).

Water consumption was estimated at 2,200 m3 per person in 1990 in Iran, while it is predicted that this will be reduced to 726–860 m3 in 2025 (Alesheikh et al. 2008). Even so, Iran is the country facing water crises in the near future. Most of Iran is characterized as arid or semi-arid regions. In these regions groundwater is the only water resource for domestic and agriculture purposes. Overuse of groundwater resources decreases the groundwater level in many aquifers. Therefore, effective aquifer recharge is becoming an increasingly important aspect of water resources management strategies.

Groundwater recharge is a process where water moves downward from the surface or is injected by an injection well into the saturated zone. Groundwater recharge occurs in nature by precipitation and infiltration from streams, lakes and other natural water bodies (Yeh et al. 2009). Natural recharge is typically around 30–50% of precipitation in temperate humid climates, 10–20% of precipitation in Mediterranean type climates, and about 0–2% of precipitation in dry climates (Tyler et al. 1996). To increase the supply of groundwater, the artificial recharge of aquifers is increasingly important in groundwater management. Artificial recharge is augmenting the amount of groundwater through human efforts to increase percolation of surface water into groundwater aquifers. Several artificial recharge methods such as percolation ponding, recharge pitting, flood spreading, induced recharging, and construction of well batteries have been practiced successfully all over the world (Karanth 1987; Muralidharan & Athavale 1998).

Before undertaking a recharge scheme, it is paramount to assess the availability of adequate water sources for recharge. Reclaimed water from wastewater treatment facilities can be an alternative water source for aquifer recharge (Pedrero et al. 2011). As suggested by Bouwer (2002), aquifer artificial recharge with reclaimed water would be an advantageous option. A study carried out by Yuan et al. (2016) considered managed aquifer recharge (MAR) with reclaimed water. They developed the specific regularity or design criteria for the evolution and operation of MAR with reclaimed water. Several case studies about the safe use of wastewater from around the world were reported by Hettiarachchi & Ardakanian (2016).

Groundwater recharge with reclaimed water is an approach to water reuse that results in the planned augmentation of groundwater for various beneficial uses. The principal beneficial uses of groundwater include municipal and industrial water supply and agricultural irrigation. Mekni and Souissi showed the effects of artificial recharge by treated wastewater in combating seawater of Korba-El Mida aquifer, Cape Bon, Tunisia. Their results showed a decrease in groundwater salinity around the recharge area (Mekni & Souissi 2016).

Artificial recharge of groundwater also allows additional polishing of the reclaimed water through soil aquifer treatment (SAT) or geopurification as the water moves through soils and aquifers (Asano 2007). Ensuring that the use of reclaimed water for aquifer recharge does not result in adverse effects on human health requires a systematic science-based approach designed around critical control points. Trace compounds, heavy metals and pathogens are of particular concern when groundwater recharge involves domestic wastewater (Tsuchihashi et al. 2002).

Selection of suitable sites for application of the appropriate artificial recharge techniques is critical for effective recharge, which is dependent upon several parameters that need to be analyzed together. The application of traditional data processing methods in site selection for artificial groundwater recharge is very difficult and time consuming, because the data are massive and usually need to be integrated. Geographic information systems allows the organization, processing and analysis of such complex information. A geographic information system (GIS) can easily integrate various information layers, such as topography, geology and hydrology, to provide a better prediction of site selection. In addition, remote sensing (RS), with its advantage of spatial, spectral and temporal availability of data covering a large and inaccessible area within a short time, has become a very rapid and cost-effective tool in assessing, monitoring and conserving groundwater resources. Sener et al. (2005) pointed out that RS can effectively identify the characteristics of the surface of the earth (such as lineaments and geology) and can be used to examine groundwater recharge.

The concept of integrating RS and GIS is almost new. Probably, the best utilization of the potential of the two technologies can be realized only once an integrated approach is adopted (Saraf & Choudhury 1998). Many researchers such as Ravi Shankar & Mohan (2005), Ghayoumian et al. (2007), Alesheikh et al. (2008), Maggirwar & Umrikar (2009) and Balachandar et al. (2010) have carried out groundwater exploration and identification of artificial recharge sites by the application of GIS. Anane et al. (2008) determined appropriate areas for artificial recharge with treated wastewater using weighting of several GIS layers. Kallali et al. (2007) applied GIS-based analysis to identify the potential wastewater aquifer recharge sites in the Hammamet–Nabeul aquifer located in ‘Cap Bon’ peninsula in the northeast of Tunisia. Pedrero et al. (2011) used GIS for site selection of aquifer recharge with reclaimed water in the Beira Interior region in Portugal.

The basic prerequisite for site selection is the determination of weights and rating values representing the relative importance of factors and their categories (Tsiporkova & Boeva 2006). Weighted index overlay (WIO) method is a simple and straightforward method for combined analysis of multi-class layers that can be incorporated into analysis to consider relative importance, which leads to a better representation of the actual area situation.

In WIO, each class of maps is given a different score allowing for a flexible weighting system. The table of scores and the map weights can be adjusted to reflect the judgment of experts in the domain of the application under consideration (Bonham-Carter 1994). At any location, the output score is defined as: 
formula
1
where is the assigned score to the cell (or polygon), is the weight of the ith information layer and is the weight of jth class from the ith map (Murray et al. 2003).

This work aims to identify potential sites for groundwater recharge of the Kerman aquifer with effluent of the Kerman city wastewater treatment plant (KWWTP). In order to identify the suitable site and generate a suitability map, multi-criteria analysis needs to be integrated into a GIS. Multi-criteria analysis combines appropriate technical, economic, social and environmental criteria, and weights them with respect to their importance to SAT. GIS analyses and treats spatially these criteria and maps suitable sites.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Case study area

The case study area corresponds to the Kerman plain limits. The area is located in the southeastern part of Iran, with mean elevation of 1,755 m, and is influenced by a moderate climate, with an average annual precipitation of 152.9 mm and annual average temperature of 15.8 °C. The Kerman plain covers 1,437 km2 of surface area (Figure 1). Geologically, soluble subsoil and alluvial deposits underline the area (Atapour & Aftabi 2002). The dominant economic activity in the region is agriculture.
Figure 1

Location of Kerman city and KWWTP in the study area.

Figure 1

Location of Kerman city and KWWTP in the study area.

The method used in this study for mapping potential groundwater recharge areas incorporated GIS and RS techniques. In the first stage, factors affecting the areas for artificial recharge with treated wastewater were identified. This study uses four sets of criteria: technical, economical, environmental and social criteria (Table 1). The criteria selected for the different variables were based on information published in national or international guidelines and studies (Washington State Department of Health 1994; USEPA 2004; WHO 2006; Kallali et al. 2007; Mahdavirad et al. 2011).

Table 1

Criteria influencing groundwater recharge

Criteria Related factors 
Technical Slope; depth to groundwater; geology; groundwater quality; land-use 
Social Residential area and airport easement; road and railroad easement 
Environmental Water supply easement; fault easement 
Economic Elevation difference from KWWTP elevation; distance from KWWTP location 
Criteria Related factors 
Technical Slope; depth to groundwater; geology; groundwater quality; land-use 
Social Residential area and airport easement; road and railroad easement 
Environmental Water supply easement; fault easement 
Economic Elevation difference from KWWTP elevation; distance from KWWTP location 

The data sets used in this research included a Landsat7 (ETM+) image acquired in August 2005; a 1:50,000 geological map generated by Atapour et al. (2010), which covered 43% of the study area; two ASTER global digital elevation models (GDEMs) with 30 m resolution generated by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) of Japan and the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 2011; and observation wells data, measured in December 2010 (latest available data).

The thematic maps were prepared using the software Arc GIS 9.3 and ENVI 4.3 and were integrated in the GIS environment for generation of the suitability map. A flowchart depicting the broad methodology adopted in the study is shown in Figure 2. The significance of each theme in evaluation of potential sites is presented as follows,
Figure 2

Methodology flowchart for the SAT site selection.

Figure 2

Methodology flowchart for the SAT site selection.

Technical criteria

Five technical criteria were considered in this research. These criteria are described briefly in the following subsections.

Slope

Slope is one of the main factors in the selection of artificial recharge areas. Water velocity directly relates to the angle of slope. On steep slopes, runoff is more erosive, and can easily transport loose sediments down the slope (Ghayoumian et al. 2005). Infiltration pond location should be feasibly constructed in a slope ranging between 0 and 5% (Pedrero et al. 2011). Higher slopes increase the pond construction costs, runoff and soil erosion. Slope layer was derived from two mosaicked GDEMs (Figure 3).
Figure 3

Slope map.

Figure 3

Slope map.

Depth to groundwater table

Depth to the groundwater table is one of the most important technical criteria to consider, because it represents the thickness of the vadose zone, in which the treated wastewater will have a complementary purification before reaching the groundwater. Therefore, suitable sites have to continuously assure 5 m of unsaturated zone even after mounding (Asano 2007). Seventy-four observation wells were used to generate the desired depth to groundwater layer.

Three methods of spatial interpolations were practiced in this research, namely: Kriging (ordinary and log ones), radial basis functions (RBF) and inverse distance weighted (IDW). Cross-validation technique was applied to assess the results. We used the mean absolute error (MAE) to identify the goodness-of-fit. The most appropriate method should have the least MAE – the closer this factor is to zero, the more precise the method. The outcome is demonstrated in Table 2. Ordinary Kriging (OK) enjoys the least MAE; thus, it is selected as the most accurate interpolation method (MAE = 2.05). A raster map of depth to groundwater table, which is generated by OK, is shown in Figure 4.
Table 2

Spatial interpolation methods and their MAE

Averaging methods MAE (Depth to groundwater) MAE (EC) 
IDW 9.8 6.6 
RBF 4.3 2.8 
OK 2.05 1.2 
Log Kriging 4.8 3.6 
Averaging methods MAE (Depth to groundwater) MAE (EC) 
IDW 9.8 6.6 
RBF 4.3 2.8 
OK 2.05 1.2 
Log Kriging 4.8 3.6 
Figure 4

Depth to groundwater table map.

Figure 4

Depth to groundwater table map.

Groundwater quality

Because groundwater is often the preferred source of public water supply, which is widely exploited for private domestic and sensitive industrial uses, aquifer pollution hazard is a serious consideration (Foster & Chilton 2004). In order to generate the groundwater quality layer, 85 observational wells were used. Electrical conductivity (EC) and total dissolved solids variations have similar trends over the aquifer; so the EC factor is accepted as an indicator of water quality. Raghonath's (1987) salinity classification was used to divide the aquifer quality into four classes on the basis of EC amounts. In this case, an OK that lays the least MAE is used to generate a raster map of groundwater quality (Table 2). Figure 5 presents the location and distribution of the wells in addition to groundwater quality.
Figure 5

Groundwater quality map.

Figure 5

Groundwater quality map.

Geology

Infiltration basins for SAT should be located in sandy loam, loamy sand or fine sand soils that are permeable enough to allow high infiltration rates, as well as to enhance the removal of trace organics, nutrients, heavy metals and pathogens (Asano 2007). Higher infiltration rate plays an important role in increasing of recharge volume per day. The geology map was prepared using an already existing 1:50,000 scale geological map via satellite imagery in the maximum likelihood classification (MLC) approach that lays the least MAE (Figure 6). The Kappa coefficient for this map was calculated to be around 0.92, which indicates accuracy of classification.
Figure 6

Geology map.

Figure 6

Geology map.

Land-use

The satellite image was used to produce a supervised land-use map. The initial spectral classification of the image was performed by the conventional MLC approach, using equal prior probabilities, that lays the least MAE. The developed land-use map indicates four land types in the basin, which are shown in Figure 7. The Kappa coefficient for this map was calculated to be about 0.87.
Figure 7

Land-use map.

Figure 7

Land-use map.

Social criteria

Social factors, which are described in the following subsections, influence the acceptability of an application site by adjacent people.

Residential areas and airport easement

The residential areas must be far from the SAT sites. A buffer area of 400 m around residential areas and a buffer area of 600 m around Kerman airport were defined in order to avoid direct contact of the reclaimed water with the population and livestock (Figure 8).
Figure 8

Social criteria map.

Figure 8

Social criteria map.

Road and railroad easement

For considering the SAT sites' distance from roads and railroads, these features were buffered by 400 m and 600 m distances, respectively (Figure 8).

Environmental criteria

Wastewater can contain heavy metals, organic compounds and a wide spectrum of enteric pathogens, which have negative impacts on the environment and human health. The environmental criteria are crucial to respect a safeguard distance in order to avoid human health risks.

Water supply easement

As a result of an improper site selection, pollutants that are contained in the wastewater can cause the contamination of drinking water supplies (Meinzinger 2003). Hence, a safeguard distance of at least 20 m around wells and a buffer area of 150 m around streams and of 300 m around qanats (linked dug wells) were defined to avoid their contamination by reclaimed water infiltration (Figure 9).
Figure 9

Environmental criteria map.

Figure 9

Environmental criteria map.

Fault easement

Rapid infiltration into faults causes incomplete wastewater purification. Hence, a buffer area of 200 m around faults was defined to avoid groundwater contamination (Figure 9).

Economic criteria

The economic criteria considered corresponded to water transport costs (adduction and pumping) from wastewater treatment plant to the SAT basins. As stated by USEPA (2006), the main criteria should be the transport length from the WWTP to the potential application site, which should not exceed 8 km, and the costs associated with pumping systems, which should not exceed 15 m in elevation.

Elevation difference from KWWTP elevation

This criterion reflects necessary wastewater pumping devices and related costs. A lower elevation difference between the application artificial recharge sites and KWWTP elevation (1,756 m) reduces costs. Figure 10 shows elevation difference between the study area and the KWWTP elevation, which was derived from the GDEMs layer.
Figure 10

Difference in elevation from the KWWTP elevation.

Figure 10

Difference in elevation from the KWWTP elevation.

Distance from the KWWTP location

We had to propose the nearest potential site to the KWWTP location. We considered this criterion in the final stage of the site selection.

Site selection

Spatial analysis for potential SAT sites identification begins by representing each selected criterion by a thematic layer, where each point takes a value or a qualification according to a given criterion. All classes of the thematic layers were integrated and analyzed in the GIS environment. There are different methods for integrating thematic layers. In this research, the WIO method, in which a range of zero to 10 is considered for different satisfactory levels, was used to generate a suitability map (Figure 11). The weightings for different layers were assigned considering expert knowledge and similar work undertaken by many researchers such as Krishnamurthy et al. (1996), Jothiprakash et al. (2003) and Rokade et al. (2007).
Figure 11

Suitability of zones.

Figure 11

Suitability of zones.

Land requirement estimation

The methodology used to estimate the required land was introduced by Kallali et al. (2005). For the calculations, we used the nominal daily flow rate for the KWWTP (105,000 m3/d). Soil permeability, of 1 cm/h and 25 cm/hm, estimated by Mahdavirad et al. (2011), was adopted for silty clay and sandy soils, respectively. Consequently, the required areas were calculated to infiltrate the available treated wastewater in the SAT basins to work in 1-day flooding and 2-day drying cycles.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

The map resulting from multi-criteria analysis identified potential zones for wastewater artificial recharge under the study. The Kerman plain was classified into five suitability zones namely: ‘very good’, ‘good’, ‘moderate to good’, ‘moderate’, ‘poor’ and ‘unsuitable’ (Table 3). Social and environmental safeguard distances and geology are the most restrictive criteria to wastewater SAT, and the elevation difference from the KWWTP elevation and slope criteria are the least restrictive in the site selection process.

Table 3

Spatial distribution of potential zones in the Kerman plain

Rank Area (sq.km) Percentage of total area 
Very good 84 5.85 
Good 620 43.15 
Moderate to good 380 26.44 
Moderate 69 4.8 
Poor 45 3.13 
Unsuitable 239 16.63 
Rank Area (sq.km) Percentage of total area 
Very good 84 5.85 
Good 620 43.15 
Moderate to good 380 26.44 
Moderate 69 4.8 
Poor 45 3.13 
Unsuitable 239 16.63 

According to the geology map, soil textures of ‘very good’ and ‘good’ zones are silty clay and sandy. Required lands were calculated as 1,312.5 ha and 52.5 ha for silty clay and sandy soil sites, respectively. Matching these results, we delineated ‘very good’ and ‘good’ zones, which satisfy required land for SAT namely: A1–A6 and B1–B8 (Figure 12).
Figure 12

Candidate sites for operating SAT.

Figure 12

Candidate sites for operating SAT.

In the next stage, we compared the candidate sites to propose the most suitable site as follows. The major social–environmental problem in the study area is the high groundwater level beneath the Kerman city. Main directions of groundwater flow in the Kerman aquifer are southeast to northwest and east to west; therefore, groundwater artificial recharge at A5 and A6 causes groundwater level to rise beneath the city. Hence, it negatively affects buildings, such as destruction of ancient structures. On the other hand, the dominant wind direction in the region is northwest to southeast. As mentioned above, the dominant economic activity is agriculture, especially in the north and northwest of the study area. Because of these reasons and since a wide area of land is required in the north and northwest of the study area, the candidate sites which are located in the north and northwest of the Kerman plain (B1–B9) were discarded from the comparison. Furthermore, soil texture at A3 and A4 is silty clay and these sites cannot meet the required land even though they work together. Hence, these candidate sites were discarded from the comparison.

A1 and A2, which are located in the southwest of the study area, remained as final candidate sites. They require less land (52.5 ha) and have the highest suitability rank for SAT. Among these candidate sites (A1 and A2), we propose the A2 site, which has less distance from the KWWTP location than A1. The analysis result constitutes a large area (512 ha) which can absorb big amounts of treated wastewater and contributes significantly in the aquifer recharge. Field investigation confirms accuracy of the analysis regarding some criteria such as geology, safeguard distance from natural, artificial features and gentle slope at the proposed site (A2). The analysis result shows that the WIO is a suitable method and multi-criteria analysis achieves comprehensive and reliable results for identifying potential SAT sites.

CONCLUSIONS

In this study, a single-objective multi-criteria analysis using GIS and RS techniques was conducted to identify potential sites for artificial recharge with treated municipal wastewater. Many criteria were selected which have technical, environmental, social and economic aspects. According to this investigation, the southwestern part of the Kerman plain proved to be a suitable artificial groundwater recharge site. This site can absorb large amounts of treated wastewater and contributes significantly in the aquifer recharge. The proposed site is far from the KWWTP (more than 15 km); therefore, it causes high cost but economic thresholds should be extended in respect to health consideration, social development and environmental sustainability. The identification of suitable sites represents the first step of the project planning. Further steps are field measurements and more evaluation of the alternatives before starting the project. For implementation of groundwater artificial recharge with treatment wastewater a simulation–optimization model must be developed and applied for calculation of optimum release of wastewater based on its treatment quality and environmental constraints.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The authors wish to thank the Kerman Province Wastewater Engineering Organization, especially Mrs Hadimoghadam and Mr Aminzadeh for their support and encouragement.

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