The environmental impacts of irrigation relate to the changes in quantity and quality of soil and water as a result of irrigation and the effects on natural and social conditions in river basins and downstream of an irrigation scheme. The impacts stem from the altered hydrological conditions caused by the installation and operation of the irrigation scheme.
Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life. Earth's body of soil, called the pedosphere, has four important functions:
Water is a transparent, tasteless, odorless, and nearly colorless chemical substance, which is the main constituent of Earth's streams, lakes, and oceans, and the fluids of most living organisms. It is vital for all known forms of life, even though it provides no calories or organic nutrients. Its chemical formula is H2O, meaning that each of its molecules contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, connected by covalent bonds. Water is the name of the liquid state of H2O at standard ambient temperature and pressure. It forms precipitation in the form of rain and aerosols in the form of fog. Clouds are formed from suspended droplets of water and ice, its solid state. When finely divided, crystalline ice may precipitate in the form of snow. The gaseous state of water is steam or water vapor. Water moves continually through the water cycle of evaporation, transpiration (evapotranspiration), condensation, precipitation, and runoff, usually reaching the sea.
Irrigation is the application of controlled amounts of water to plants at needed intervals. Irrigation helps to grow agricultural crops, maintain landscapes, and revegetate disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of less than average rainfall. Irrigation also has other uses in crop production, including frost protection, suppressing weed growth in grain fields and preventing soil consolidation. In contrast, agriculture that relies only on direct rainfall is referred to as rain-fed or dry land farming.
An irrigation scheme draws water from groundwater, rivers, lakes or overland flow, and distributes it over an area. Hydrological, or direct, effects of doing thisinclude reduction in downstream river flow, increased evaporation in the irrigated area, increased level in the water table as groundwater recharge in the area is increased and flow increased in the irrigated area. Likewise, irrigation has immediate effects on the provision of moisture to the atmosphere, inducing atmospheric instabilities and increasing downwind rainfall, or in other cases modifies the atmospheric circulation, delivering rain to different downwind areas. Increases or decreases in irrigation are a key area of concern in precipitationshed studies, that examine how significant modifications to the delivery of evaporation to the atmosphere can alter downwind rainfall.
A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases a river flows into the ground and becomes dry at the end of its course without reaching another body of water. Small rivers can be referred to using names such as stream, creek, brook, rivulet, and rill. There are no official definitions for the generic term river as applied to geographic features, although in some countries or communities a stream is defined by its size. Many names for small rivers are specific to geographic location; examples are "run" in some parts of the United States, "burn" in Scotland and northeast England, and "beck" in northern England. Sometimes a river is defined as being larger than a creek, but not always: the language is vague.
A lake is an area filled with water, localized in a basin, that is surrounded by land, apart from any river or other outlet that serves to feed or drain the lake. Lakes lie on land and are not part of the ocean, and therefore are distinct from lagoons, and are also larger and deeper than ponds, though there are no official or scientific definitions. Lakes can be contrasted with rivers or streams, which are usually flowing. Most lakes are fed and drained by rivers and streams.
Evaporation is a type of vaporization that occurs on the surface of a liquid as it changes into the gas phase. The surrounding gas must not be saturated with the evaporating substance. When the molecules of the liquid collide, they transfer energy to each other based on how they collide with each other. When a molecule near the surface absorbs enough energy to overcome the vapor pressure, it will escape and enter the surrounding air as a gas. When evaporation occurs, the energy removed from the vaporized liquid will reduce the temperature of the liquid, resulting in evaporative cooling.
Indirect effects are those that have consequences that take longer to develop and may also be longer-lasting. The indirect effects of irrigation include the following:
Waterlogging refers to the saturation of soil with water. Soil may be regarded as waterlogged when it is nearly saturated with water much of the time such that its air phase is restricted and anaerobic conditions prevail. In extreme cases of prolonged waterlogging, anaerobiosis occurs, the roots of mesophytes suffer, and the subsurface reducing atmosphere leads to such processes as denitrification, methanogenesis, and the reduction of iron and manganese oxides.
Ecology is the branch of biology which studies the interactions among organisms and their environment. Objects of study include interactions of organisms that include biotic and abiotic components of their environment. Topics of interest include the biodiversity, distribution, biomass, and populations of organisms, as well as cooperation and competition within and between species. Ecosystems are dynamically interacting systems of organisms, the communities they make up, and the non-living components of their environment. Ecosystem processes, such as primary production, pedogenesis, nutrient cycling, and niche construction, regulate the flux of energy and matter through an environment. These processes are sustained by organisms with specific life history traits. Biodiversity means the varieties of species, genes, and ecosystems, enhances certain ecosystem services.
The indirect effects of waterlogging and soil salination occur directly on the land being irrigated. The ecological and socioeconomic consequences take longer to happen but can be more far-reaching.
Some irrigation schemes use water wells for irrigation. As a result, the overall water level decreases. This may cause water mining, land/soil subsidence, and, along the coast, saltwater intrusion.
Groundwater-related subsidence is the subsidence of land resulting from groundwater extraction. It is a growing problem in the developing world as cities increase in population and water use, without adequate pumping regulation and enforcement. One estimate has 80% of serious U.S. land subsidence problems associated with the excessive extraction of groundwater, making it a growing problem throughout the world.
Saltwater intrusion is the movement of saline water into freshwater aquifers, which can lead to contamination of drinking water sources and other consequences. Saltwater intrusion occurs naturally to some degree in most coastal aquifers, owing to the hydraulic connection between groundwater and seawater. Because saline water has a higher mineral content than freshwater, it is denser and has a higher water pressure. As a result, saltwater can push inland beneath the freshwater. Certain human activities, especially groundwater pumping from coastal freshwater wells, have increased saltwater intrusion in many coastal areas. Water extraction drops the level of fresh groundwater, reducing its water pressure and allowing saltwater to flow further inland. Other contributors to saltwater intrusion include navigation channels or agricultural and drainage channels, which provide conduits for saltwater to move inland, and it can also make sea level rise. Saltwater intrusion can also be worsened by extreme events like hurricane storm surges.
Irrigated land area worldwide occupies about 16% of the total agricultural area and the crop yield of irrigated land is roughly 40% of the total yield.In other words, irrigated land produces 2.5 times more product than non-irrigated land. This article will discuss some of the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of irrigation.
The reduced downstream river flow may cause:
Increased groundwater recharge stems from the unavoidable deep percolation losses occurring in the irrigation scheme. The lower the irrigation efficiency, the higher the losses. Although fairly high irrigation efficiencies of 70% or more (i.e. losses of 30% or less) can occur with sophisticated techniques like sprinkler irrigation and drip irrigation, or by well managed surface irrigation, in practice the losses are commonly in the order of 40% to 60%. This may cause the following issues:
Owing to drainage of surface and groundwater in the project area, which waters may be salinized and polluted by agricultural chemicals like biocides and fertilizers, the quality of the river water below the project area can deteriorate, which makes it less fit for industrial, municipal and household use. It may lead to reduced public health.
Polluted river water entering the sea may adversely affect the ecology along the sea shore (see Aswan dam).
The natural buildup of sedimentation can reduce downstream river flows due to the installation of irrigation systems. Sedimentation is an essential part of the ecosystem that requires the natural flux of the river flow. This natural cycle of sediment dispersion replenishes the nutrients in the soil, that will in turn, determine the livelihood of the plants and animals that rely on the sediments carried downstream. The benefits of heavy deposits of sedimentation can be seen in large rivers like the Nile River. The sediment from the delta has built up to form a giant aquifer during flood season, and retains water in the wetlands. The wetlands that are created and sustained due to built up sediment at the basin of the river is a habitat for numerous species of birds.However, heavy sedimentation can reduce downstream river water quality and can exacerbate floods up stream. This has been known to happen in the Sanmenxia reservoir in China. The Sanmenxia reservoir is part of a larger man-made project of hydro-electric dams called the Three Gorge Project In 1998, uncertain calculations and heavy sediment greatly affected the reservoir’s ability to properly fulfill its flood-control function This also reduces the down stream river water quality. Shifting more towards mass irrigation installments in order to meet more socioeconomic demands is going against the natural balance of nature, and use water pragmatically- use it where it is found
Downstream water users often have no legal water rights and may fall victim of the development of irrigation.
Pastoralists and nomadic tribes may find their land and water resources blocked by new irrigation developments without having a legal recourse.
Flood-recession cropping may be seriously affected by the upstream interception of river water for irrigation purposes.
Irrigation projects may reduce the fishing opportunities of the original population and the grazing opportunities for cattle. The livestock pressure on the remaining lands may increase considerably, because the ousted traditional pastoralist tribes will have to find their subsistence and existence elsewhere, overgrazing may increase, followed by serious soil erosion and the loss of natural resources.
The Manatali reservoir formed by the Manantali dam in Mali intersects the migration routes of nomadic pastoralists and destroyed 43000 ha of savannah, probably leading to overgrazing and erosion elsewhere. Further, the reservoir destroyed 120 km² of forest. The depletion of groundwater aquifers, which is caused by the suppression of the seasonal flood cycle, is damaging the forests downstream of the dam.
When more groundwater is pumped from wells than replenished, storage of water in the aquifer is being mined and the use of that water is no longer sustainable. As levels fail, it becomes more difficult to extract water and pumps will struggle to maintain the design flowrate and consume more may fenergy per unit of water. Eventually it may become so difficult to extract groundwater that farmers may be forced to abandon irrigated agriculture.
Some notable examples include:
The effects of irrigation on watertable, soil salinity and salinity of drainage and groundwater, and the effects of mitigative measures can be simulated and predicted using agro-hydro-salinity models like SaltMod and SahysMod
Irrigation can have a variety negative impacts on ecology and socioeconomy, which may be mitigated in a number of ways. These include siting the irrigation project in a location which minimises negative impacts.The efficiency of existing projects can be improved and existing degraded croplands can be improved rather than establishing a new irrigation project Developing small-scale, individually owned irrigation systems as an alternative to large-scale, publicly owned and managed schemes. The use of sprinkler irrigation and micro-irrigation systems decreases the risk of waterlogging and erosion. Where practicable, using treated wastewater makes more water available to other users Maintaining flood flows downstream of the dams can ensure that an adequate area is flooded each year, supporting, amongst other objectives, fishery activities.
It often takes time to accurately predict the impact that new irrigation schemes will have on the ecology and socioeconomy of a region. By the time these predictions are available, a considerable amount of time and resources may have already been expended in the implementation of that project. When that is the case, the project managers will often only change the project if the impact would be considerably more than they had originally expected.
Frequently irrigation schemes are seen as extremely necessary for socioeconomic well-being especially in developing countries. One example of this can be demonstrated from a proposal for an irrigation scheme in Malawi. Here it was shown that the potential positive effects of the irrigation project that was being proposed "outweighed the potential negative impacts". It was stated that the impacts would mostly "be localized, minimal, short term occurring during the construction and operation phases of the Project". In order to help alleviate and prevent major environmental impacts, they would use techniques that minimize the potential negative impacts. As far as the region's socioeconomic well-being, there would be no "displacement and/or resettlement envisioned during the implementation of the Project activities". The original primary purposes of the irrigation project were to reduce poverty, improve food security, create local employment, increase household income and enhance the sustainability of land use.
Due to this careful planning this project was successful both in improving the socialeconomic conditions in the region and ensuring that land and water are sustainability into the future.
Drainage is the natural or artificial removal of a surface's water and sub-surface water from an area with excess of water. The internal drainage of most agricultural soils is good enough to prevent severe waterlogging, but many soils need artificial drainage to improve production or to manage water supplies.
Soil salinity is the salt content in the soil; the process of increasing the salt content is known as salinization. Salts occur naturally within soils and water. Salination can be caused by natural processes such as mineral weathering or by the gradual withdrawal of an ocean. It can also come about through artificial processes such as irrigation and road salt.
The Aswan Dam, or more specifically since the 1960s, the Aswan High Dam, is an embankment dam built across the Nile in Aswan, Egypt, between 1960 and 1970. Its significance largely eclipsed the previous Aswan Low Dam initially completed in 1902 downstream. Based on the success of the Low Dam, then at its maximum utilization, construction of the High Dam became a key objective of the government following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952; with its ability to better control flooding, provide increased water storage for irrigation and generate hydroelectricity the dam was seen as pivotal to Egypt's planned industrialization. Like the earlier implementation, the High Dam has had a significant effect on the economy and culture of Egypt.
Soil salinity and dryland salinity are two problems degrading the environment of Australia. Salinity is a concern in most states, but especially in the south-west of Western Australia.
Acid sulfate soils are naturally occurring soils, sediments or organic substrates that are formed under waterlogged conditions. These soils contain iron sulfide minerals or their oxidation products. In an undisturbed state below the water table, acid sulfate soils are benign. However, if the soils are drained, excavated or exposed to air by a lowering of the water table, the sulfides react with oxygen to form sulfuric acid.
The environmental impact of reservoirs comes under ever-increasing scrutiny as the global demand for water and energy increases and the number and size of reservoirs increases.
Watertable control is the practice of controlling the height of the water table by drainage. Its main applications are in agricultural land and in cities to manage the extensive underground infrastructure that includes the foundations of large buildings, underground transit systems, and extensive utilities.
Groundwater models are computer models of groundwater flow systems, and are used by hydrogeologists. Groundwater models are used to simulate and predict aquifer conditions.
Soil salinity control relates to controlling the problem of soil salinity and reclaiming salinized agricultural land.
Well drainage means drainage of agricultural lands by wells. Agricultural land is drained by pumped wells to improve the soils by controlling water table levels and soil salinity.
Drainage research is the study of agricultural drainage systems and their effects to arrive at optimal system design.
SaltMod is computer program for the prediction of the salinity of soil moisture, groundwater and drainage water, the depth of the watertable, and the drain discharge (hydrology) in irrigated agricultural lands, using different (geo)hydrologic conditions, varying water management options, including the use of ground water for irrigation, and several cropping rotation schedules. The water management options include irrigation, drainage, and the use of subsurface drainage water from pipe drains, ditches or wells for irrigation.
Water resources and irrigation infrastructure in Peru vary throughout the country. The coastal region, an arid but fertile land, has about two-thirds of Peru’s irrigation infrastructure due to private and public investment aimed at increasing agricultural exports. The Highlands and Amazon regions, with abundant water resources but rudimentary irrigation systems, are home to the majority of Peru's poor, many of whom rely on subsistence or small-scale farming.
Surface irrigation is where water is applied and distributed over the soil surface by gravity. It is by far the most common form of irrigation throughout the world and has been practiced in many areas virtually unchanged for thousands of years.
An agricultural drainage system is a system by which water is drained on or in the soil to enhance agricultural production of crops. It may involve any combination of stormwater control, erosion control, and watertable control.
This page shows statistical data on irrigation of agricultural lands worldwide.
Irrigation is the artificial abstraction of water from a source followed by the distribution of it at scheme level aiming at application at field level to enhance crop production when rainfall is scarce.
The environmental impact of agriculture is the effect that different farming practices have on the ecosystems around them, and how those effects can be traced back to those practices. The environmental impact of agriculture varies based on the wide variety of agricultural practices employed around the world. Ultimately, the environmental impact depends on the production practices of the system used by farmers. The connection between emissions into the environment and the farming system is indirect, as it also depends on other climate variables such as rainfall and temperature.
Water resources management in modern Egypt is a complex process that involves multiple stakeholders who use water for irrigation, municipal and industrial water supply, hydropower generation and navigation. In addition, the waters of the Nile support aquatic ecosystems that are threatened by abstraction and pollution. Egypt also has substantial fossil groundwater resources in the Western Desert.
Irrigation in Iran covers 89,930 km2 making it the fifth ranked country in terms of irrigated area.