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Improving irrigation water use efficiency: A review of advances, challenges and opportunities in the Australian context
journal contributionposted on 2019-06-11, 00:00 authored by Richard KoechRichard Koech, P Langat
The demand for fresh water is on the increase, and the irrigation industry in Australia is looking to a future with less water. Irrigation consumes the bulk of the water extracted from various sources, and hence the efficiency of its use is of outmost importance. This paper reviewed the advancements made towards improving irrigation water use efficiency (WUE), with a focus on irrigation in Australia but with some examples from other countries. The challenges encountered, as well as the opportunities available, are also discussed. The review showed that improvements in irrigation infrastructure through modernisation and automation have led to water savings. The concept of real-time control and optimisation in irrigation is in its developmental stages but has already demonstrated potential for water savings. The future is likely to see increased use of remote sensing techniques as well as wireless communication systems and more versatile sensors to improve WUE. In many cases, water saved as a result of using efficient technologies ends up being reused to expand the area of land under irrigation, sometimes resulting in a net increase in the total water consumption at the basin scale. Hence, to achieve net water savings, water-efficient technologies and practices need to be used in combination with other measures such as incentives for conservation and appropriate regulations that limit water allocation and use. Factors that affect the trends in the irrigation WUE include engineering and technological innovations, advancements in plant and pasture science, environmental factors, and socio-economic considerations. Challenges that might be encountered include lack of public support, especially when the methods used are not cost-effective, and reluctance of irrigations to adopt new technologies.