Integrated assessment of four strategies for solving water imbalance in an agricultural landscape

  • Sandrine AllainEmail author
  • Gregory Obiang Ndong
  • Romain Lardy
  • Delphine Leenhardt
Research Article


Water imbalances are an environmental, social, and economic problem in many agricultural watersheds, including those in temperate climates. Structural changes are recommended because crisis management, through water restrictions, is not sustainable. However, the content of these changes is debated, especially because their impacts concern different sectors and stakeholders and are uncertain. MAELIA is an integrated assessment and modeling platform, which combines a multi-agent model with a geographic information system; it represents fine-scale interactions among water, water management, and agricultural systems, accounting for daily irrigation decisions on each field and effects of the corresponding water withdrawals on water flows. In this article, for the first time, we investigated the effectiveness of some of the most popular strategies aimed at solving water imbalances considering environmental, water management, and agricultural indicators calculated with MAELIA. The alternatives we assessed were (i) reducing the irrigated area, (ii) assisting irrigation with decision-support tools, (iii) implementing crop rotations, and (iv) merging water storage into large reservoirs. Simulations were run for the 2001–2013 period on a case-study area, the downstream Aveyron watershed. We show that, in this area, the decision-support tool and crop-rotation alternatives drastically decreased irrigation withdrawals and required fewer restrictions and flow-support releases. However, those two alternatives had different impacts on the environment and farming systems: decision-support tools cost almost nothing for farming systems and improved environmental indicators slightly, while crop rotations had greater potential for long-term environmental preservation but degraded local and farm economies in the current context. The uniqueness of this study comes from using a fine-scale mechanistic model to assess, in an integrated way, the impacts of politically debated water management strategies that were previously only assessed in terms of potential withdrawal reduction.


Integrated assessment and modeling Quantitative water management Irrigated agriculture MAELIA platform 



This work was part of a PhD research and research internship funded by the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research, the French National Agency for Research (project ANR TATA-BOX) and the French Ministry of Agriculture (project CASDAR SIMULTEAU and Joint Technological Unit EAU). We warmly thank Ulrich Eza and Clément Murgue for their support in the simulation process, Michelle and Michael Corson for proofreading this manuscript, and the anonymous reviewers who raised useful comments and questions to improve the quality of this article.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.AGIR, Toulouse University, INRA, INPT, INP-EI PURPANCastanet Tolosan CedexFrance

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