How future changes in irrigation water supply and demand affect water security in a Mediterranean catchment

J.P.C. Eekhout*, I. Delsman, J.E.M. Baartman, M. van Eupen, C. van Haren, S. Contreras, J. Martínez-López, J. de Vente

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


It is likely that climate change will increase irrigation water demand and, consequently, reduces water security in the Mediterranean Basin if current irrigation supply and demand conditions are maintained. Climate change adaptation can be achieved by (1) decreasing irrigation water demand through more efficient irrigation techniques, (2) increasing irrigation water supply by adopting new technological advances, (3) converting to rainfed agriculture, and (4) implementation of Nature-based Solutions for water retention. The aim of this study was to assess the effectiveness of different combinations of these adaptation options on water security through analysis of contrasting scenarios of socio-economic development. We defined plausible scenarios of climate change, land use change and adaptation measures for an intensively irrigated catchment in south-eastern Spain under three Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSP), representing different storylines of socio-economic development. We considered three SSP scenarios, including the Sustainability pathway (SSP1), the Middle of the Road pathway (SSP2) and the Fossil-fueled Development pathway (SSP5). Future land use distributions were obtained with the iClue land use change model by accounting for differences in irrigation water demand and supply, resulting in a decrease (SSP1), a constant (SSP2) and an increase (SSP5) in irrigated agriculture. The impact of each scenario on a series of water security indicators was quantified using the SPHY-MMF hydrology-soil erosion model. The SSP2 scenario, which considers very limited climate change adaptation, projects the most severe impacts on water security, including an increase in plant water stress, flood discharge, hillslope erosion and sediment yield. Under SSP1, which accounts for most climate change adaptation strategies, irrigation water demand is significantly reduced due to a shift from irrigated to rainfed agriculture and the implementation of reduced deficit irrigation, while Nature-based Solutions reduce the impact on other water security indicators. Under SSP5, a conversion from rainfed to irrigated agriculture causes a significant increase in irrigation water demand, which is met by increasing irrigation water supply from desalination. SSP5 shows intermediate impacts on other water security indicators, which is explained by a strong decrease in annual precipitation. This study helps exploring how different future socio-economic pathways affect water security and thereby supports evidence-based policy development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108818
JournalAgricultural Water Management
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2024


  • Climate change
  • Irrigated agriculture
  • Nature-based Solutions
  • Shared Socioeconomic Pathways


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