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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-174
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-174
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 14 May 2019

Research article | 14 May 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Assessment of potential implications of agricultural irrigation policy on surface water scarcity in Brazil

Sebastian Multsch1,a, Maarten S. Krol2, Markus Pahlow3, André L. C. Assunção4, Alberto G. O. P. Barretto4, Quirijn de Jong van Lier5, and Lutz Breuer1,6 Sebastian Multsch et al.
  • 1Institute for Landscape Ecology and Resources Management (ILR), Research Centre for BioSystems, Land Use and Nutrition (iFZ), Justus Liebig University Giessen, Giessen, Germany
  • 2Water Engineering and Management, University of Twente, Enschede, the Netherlands
  • 3Department of Civil and Natural Resources Engineering, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
  • 4Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture (ESALQ), University of São Paulo, Brazil
  • 5Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture (CENA), University of São Paulo, Brazil
  • 6Centre for International Development and Environmental Research (ZEU), Justus Liebig University Giessen, Giessen, Germany
  • acurrent address: knoell Germany GmbH, Mannheim, Germany

Abstract. Expanding irrigated cropping areas is one of Brazil’s strategies to increase agricultural production. This expansion is constrained by water policy goals to restrict water scarcity to acceptable levels. We therefore analysed the trade-off between levels of acceptable water scarcity, and feasible expansion of irrigation. The appropriateness of water use in agricultural production was assessed in categories ranging from excellent to very critical based on the river flow that is equalled or exceeded for 95 % of the time (Q95) as indicator for physical water availability. The crop water balance components were determined for 166,842 sub-catchments covering all of Brazil. The crops considered were cotton, rice, sugarcane, beans, cassava, corn, soybean and wheat, together accounting for 96 % of the harvested area of irrigated and rainfed agriculture. On currently irrigated land irrigation must be discontinued on 53.6 % (2.30 Mha) for an excellent water scarcity level, on 44.5 % (1.91 Mha) for a comfortable water scarcity level and on 35.2 % (1.51 Mha) for a worrying water scarcity level, in order to avoid critical water scarcity. An expansion of irrigated areas by irrigating all 45.56 Mha of rainfed area would strongly impact surface water resources, resulting in 26.02 Mha experiencing critical and very critical water scarcity. The results show in a spatially differentiated manner that potential future decisions regarding expanding irrigated cropping areas in Brazil must, while pursuing to intensify production practices, consider the likely regional effects on water scarcity levels, in order to reach sustainable agricultural production.

Sebastian Multsch et al.
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Short summary
Expanding irrigation in agriculture is one of Brazil’s potential strategies to increase production. In this study, the trade-off between levels of acceptable surface water scarcity and feasible expansion of irrigation has been analysed. It is shown, in a spatially differentiated manner, where action needs to be taken in order to reach sustainable agricultural production with respect to surface water utilisation for irrigation.
Expanding irrigation in agriculture is one of Brazil’s potential strategies to increase...
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