Long-Term Effects of Irrigation Water Conservation on Crop Production and Environment in Semiarid Areas
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As water is becoming a scarcer commodity, savings in the irrigation sector could enhance water development in areas currently not being irrigated, and arrest the rapid environmental degradation due to waterlogging in and areas. The agro-hydrological model SWAP is used to investigate possible water reductions for wheat and cotton crops under shallow water table conditions prevailing in the Fourth Drainage Project in Punjab, Pakistan. The simulations are performed for both drained and undrained conditions considering three different irrigation water qualities. The overall objective is to save good-quality irrigation water. The results indicate that when good-quality canal water is available, a reduced application to wheat (195 mm) and cotton (260 mm) will keep the soil healthier under both drained and undrained conditions. For poor-quality irrigation waters (mixed canal and tubewell or tubewell alone), this water conservation strategy will be insufficient. Therefore, more water (325 mm for wheat and 325 mm for cotton) should be applied to keep crop production and soil salinity within desirable limits. However, this will only be applicable to the areas where proper subsurface drainage systems are present. For undrained areas, this strategy will not be feasible due to rising water tables; other options like growing more salt-tolerant crops should be considered. Drainage cannot solve salinity buildup problems under all circumstances because relatively dry monsoons provide insufficient leaching water, and salts added by tubewell irrigation can only be evacuated from the soil profile if the drainage system is very intense. Reduced irrigation inputs is a proper short-term solution, although wheat production tends to decline in all areas without drainage, even when irrigated with canal water. Large-scale drainage investments associated with adjusted irrigation planning seem unavoidable in the long run.
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