, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 77-84

Evaluating irrigation performance in a Mediterranean environment

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Abstract

Assessment of irrigation performance is a prerequisite for improving water use in the agricultural sector to respond to perceived water scarcity. Between 1996 and 2000, we conducted a comprehensive assessment of the performance of the Genil–Cabra irrigation scheme (GCIS) located in Andalusia, southern Spain. The area has about 7,000 ha of irrigated lands distributed in 843 parcels and devoted to a diverse crop mix, with cereals, sunflower, cotton, garlic and olive trees as principal crops. Irrigation is on demand from a pressurized system and hand-moved sprinkler irrigation is the most popular application method. Six performance indicators were used to assess the physical and economic performance of irrigation water use and management in the GCIS, using parcel water-use records and a simulation model. The model simulates the water-balance processes on every field and computes an optimal irrigation schedule, which is then checked against actual schedules. Among the performance indicators, the average irrigation water supply:demand ratio (the ratio of measured irrigation supply to the simulated optimum demand) varied among years from 0.45 to 0.64, indicating that the area is under deficit irrigation. When rainfall was included, the supply:demand ratio increased up to 0.87 in one year, although it was only 0.72 in the driest year, showing that farmers did not fully compensate for the low rainfall with sufficient irrigation water. Nevertheless, farmers in the area made an efficient use of rainfall, as indicated by the relatively high values (0.72–0.83) for the ratio of actual:attainable crop yields. Water productivity (WP) in the GCIS oscillated between 0.72 €/m3 and 1.99 €/m3 during the 4 years and averaged 1.42 €/m3 of water supplied for irrigation, while the irrigation water productivity (IWP) averaged 0.63 €/m3 for the period studied. WP is higher than IWP because WP includes production generated by rainfall, while IWP includes only the production generated by irrigation.

Communicated by A. Kassam