Irrigation mix: how to include water sources when assessing freshwater consumption impacts associated to crops

  • Almudena Hospido
  • Montserrat Núñez
  • Assumpció Antón



Impacts of activities related to freshwater use are gaining interest among the life cycle assessment (LCA) community and several approaches are nowadays available in the literature. However, the general trend still is to ignore the assessment of its impact or, luckily, its inclusion on the inventory. This paper describes a procedure to incorporate water source information at the inventory level and evaluate the influence of that profile on the environmental impact assessment level.


The methodology lies on two main elements: the “irrigation mix” concept and the freshwater ecosystem impact indicator already defined in the literature. By doing so, the results obtained can be easily integrated in LCA studies of irrigated crops, or more complex studies with agricultural ingredients, where only information regarding the amount (but not the origin) of irrigation water is available.

Results and discussion

The results make more visible the benefits associated to the use of nonconventional, artificial water sources, by quantifying the improvement achieved on the water stress of a specific basin. Besides, the irrigation mix gives a better picture of the real contribution of irrigation to other impact categories (here, the global warming potential). Finally, the results were applied in a LCA study of lettuce production (an irrigated product cultivated in the studied region), and the method was analyzed against the criteria defined by the International Reference Life Cycle Data System handbook.


The inclusion of the water mix in the inventory level (irrigation profile) as well as in the impact assessment level (water stress index) is straightforward to apply by LCA practitioners, resulting in a more realistic assessment of the impacts of freshwater consumption associated to crops. The implementation on a case study allowed the quantification of promoting alternative water sources in a region suffering from significant water stress as well as to improve knowledge on the environmental impact associated to freshwater consumed by one of the irrigated crops grown there. We recommend using the approach defined here in order to check its applicability to other river basins and products.


Blue water Desalinated water Impact assessment Inventory Life cycle assessment Wastewater 



Dr. Hospido belongs to the Galician Competitive Research Group GRC2010/37. She thanks the Galician Autonomous Government for financial support during her research stay at IRTA and for the project 09MDS010262PR. Dr. Núñez wishes to thank the Ecotech-Sudoe SOE2/P2/E377 GT3.3, an Interreg IV b SUDOE project, for their financial support. She also thanks the members of the Environmental Life Cycle & Sustainability Assessment research group ( for helpful discussions.

Supplementary material

11367_2012_523_MOESM1_ESM.doc (966 kb)
ESM 1 Details on the data handled in the case study for the definition of the irrigation profile and the calculation of the characterization factor is provided. This material is available to authorized users together with the online version of this article. (DOC 966 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Almudena Hospido
    • 1
  • Montserrat Núñez
    • 2
    • 3
  • Assumpció Antón
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Chemical Engineering, Institute of TechnologyUniversity of Santiago de CompostelaSantiago de CompostelaSpain
  2. 2.IRTA (Institute for Food and Agricultural Research and Technology)CabrilsSpain
  3. 3.Irstea, Research Unit: Information and Technologies for Agro-processesMontpellierFrance

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