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Udias, Angel; Pastori, Marco; Malago, Anna; Vigiak, Olga; Nikolaidis, Nikolaos P. and Bouraoui, Faycal (2018): Identifying efficient agricultural irrigation strategies in Crete. In: Science of the Total Environment, Vol. 633: pp. 271-284

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Water scarcity and droughts are a major concern in most Mediterranean countries. Agriculture is a major user of water in the region and releases significant amounts of surface and ground waters, endangering the sustainable use of the available resources. Best Management Practices (BMPs) can mitigate the agriculture impacts on quantity of surface waters in agricultural catchments. However, identification of efficient BMPs strategies is a complex task, because BMPs costs and effectiveness can vary significantly within a basin. In this study, sustainable agricultural practices were studied based on optimal allocation of irrigation water use for dominant irrigated crops in the island of Crete, Greece. A decision support tool that integrates the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) watershed model, an economic model, and multi-objective optimization routines, was used to identify and locate optimal irrigation strategies by considering crop water requirements, impact of irrigation changes on crop productivity, management strategies costs, and crop market prices. Three spatial scales (crop type, fields, and administrative regions) were considered to point out different approaches of efficient management. According to the analysis, depending on the spatial scale and complexity of spatial optimization, water irrigation volumes could be reduced by 32%-70% while preserving current agricultural benefit. Specific management strategies also looked at ways to relocate water between administrative regions (4 prefectures in the case of Crete) to optimize crop benefit while reducing global water use. It was estimated that an optimal reallocation of water could reduce irrigation water volumes by 52% (148 Mm(3)/y) at the cost of a 7% (48 M(sic)) loss of agricultural income, but maintaining the current agricultural benefit (626.9 M(sic)). The study showed how the identification of optimal, cost-effective irrigation management strategies can potentially address the water scarcity issue that is becoming crucial for the viability of agriculture in the Mediterranean region.

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