Influence of the Water Source on the Carbon Footprint of Irrigated Agriculture: A Regional Study in South-Eastern Spain
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Segura River Basin (SRB) and Tagus–Segura Water Transfer (TSWT)
2.2. Water Supply Scenarios and Water–Energy Nexus
- Concession scenario (WS0). This is a theoretical scenario corresponding to the irrigation rights recognised in the Hydrological Plan of the Segura Demarcation 2015/21 for the ADUs linked to the TSWT , without considering recent desalination concessions (13 Mm3/year). The water resources’ availability for this scenario are shown in Figure 2. The specific consumption associated with the supply in WS0 is 0.94 kWh/m3.
- Current scenario (WS1). This corresponds to the irrigation rights recognised in the Hydrological Plan of the Segura Demarcation 2015/21 for the ADUs linked to the TSWT, adjusting the TSWT supply to its average value for the period 1979 to 2011 (196 Mm3/year in origin and 176 Mm³/year in destination ); and the DSW to current concessions (13 Mm³/year included in the Hydrological Plan and 80 Mm3/year assigned from the Torrevieja desalination plant, according to the Official State Gazette of 3 October 2019). This scenario is quite representative of the current situation due to the aforementioned progressive decrease in the transferred flow through the TSWT. The specific consumption associated with the supply in WS1 is 1.41 kWh/m3.
- Substitution scenario of TSWT with seawater desalination (WS2). As shown in Figure 2, this is the same scenario as the Concession Scenario (WS0) but replacing 100% of the TSWT with DSW. It represents a hypothetical future scenario that could occur because of the multiple pressures on the TSWT. The specific consumption associated with WS3 is 2.78 kWh/m3.
2.3. Main Crops Considered in the Study
- Outdoor vegetables. This group is made up of artichoke, broccoli, lettuce and melon. Their covered area in the region represents 84.42% of the total cultivated vegetables area  (see Table S2 in the Supplementary Materials).
- Citrus. Lemon, mandarin and orange were considered. Their covered area in the region represents 97.78% of the total cultivated citrus area  (see Table S3 in the supplement for details).
- Non-citrus fruits (fleshy fruits). Apricot and peach were considered. Their covered area in the region represents 88.02% of the total cultivated non-citrus area  (see Table S4 in the supplement for details).
2.4. Carbon Footprint (CO2 Balance)
2.4.1. Calculation of GHG Emissions by Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Methodology
2.4.2. Calculation of CO2 Removal by Crops
2.5. Extrapolation of Results to ADUs Supplied by the TSWT
- Determination of the annual values of GHG emissions, CO2 removal and carbon balance for each crop group and water scenario. For the “citrus” and “non-citrus” fruit groups the value was calculated using the weighted average by the area of each crop of the selected group in the region (see Tables S3 and S4 for details). In the case of the “outdoor vegetables” group, the average value obtained from the five most frequent and representative crop rotations in the study area was considered as an annual value per hectare (Section 2.4.1).
- Determination of the weight of each crop group in each ADU. The percentages that each group of crops represents in each ADU were considered (data included in Table S8 of the Supplementary Materials). Then, the net area corresponding to the crop groups was calculated, increasing it in proportion to its magnitude until the total net area of each ADU was reached.
- Determination of the total (t CO2 eq/year) and specific (t CO2 eq/ha-year) annual GHG emissions per ADU and water scenario. From the GHG emissions values calculated for each crop group, the value corresponding to each ADU was obtained by multiplying that value by the weight of the crop group in the ADU (t CO2 eq/ha-year) and by the net area of the ADU (t CO2 eq/year). This process was repeated for each water scenario.
- Determination of the total (t CO2/year) and specific (t CO2/ha-year) annual CO2 removal and carbon balance per ADU. The same procedure described in step 3 was followed.
- Aggregation and graphic representation of the entire study area results for each water scenario. The estimation of the total and specific annual values of GHG emissions, CO2 removal and carbon balance were carried out by adding the values obtained for each ADU and water scenario. Finally, those values were graphically presented to show their spatial trends.
3. Results and Discussion
3.1. Carbon Balance of the Selected Crops
3.2. Carbon Balance by Agricultural Demand Units (ADUs)
3.3. Carbon Balance of the Irrigation Lands Supplied by the TSWT
4. Adaptation Strategies to Increase Sustainability
- Controlled blending of DSW with other water sources. This has been documented in several countries, including Israel [49,50,51,52]; Spain [27,53,54,55]; Mexico [56,57]; USA (California) [58,59,60]; and Australia . In Israel for example, blending 36% of DSW with other water sources (groundwater, surface water and brackish water) reduced GHG emissions by 53% compared to 100% DSW . In the case of La Marina seawater desalination plant in Almería (south of Spain), mixing the DSW with groundwater did help remineralise DSW whilst significantly reducing the associated environmental impact . In SE Spain, Martínez-Alvarez et al.  evaluated the impact of irrigation with DSW on farming costs and fertiliser requirements for different crops, concluding that blending DSW and conventional water at a 50% rate notably reduced the operational costs (mainly linked with energy consumption) and the fertiliser application, although that study did not estimate its associated positive environmental impact.
- Increasing renewable energy sources in electricity mix production. Reducing GHG emissions associated with the electricity mix to produce DSW is another important strategy to increase the sustainability of DSW for irrigation. Of all industry sectors, electricity is responsible for the largest fraction (25%) of global anthropogenic GHG emissions . The share of renewable energies in global electricity generation approached 26% in 2018  and reached 32% in the European Union . In September 2020, the European Commission proposed raising the 2030 GHG emission reduction target to at least 55% compared to 1990. Achieving this target requires: (i) an increased share for renewable energy of at least 32% and (ii) an improvement in energy efficiency of at least 32.5% . In line with these policy targets, the integration of renewable energy into DSW production may substantially reduce its carbon footprint. In fact, Shahabi et al.  indicated that seawater desalination plants powered with renewable energy can achieve a 90% reduction in GHG emissions.Numerous other authors have stressed the importance of increasing renewable energy in the production of electricity to improve the sustainability of horticulture [33,67,68]. Torrellas et al.  indicated that the current overexploitation of aquifers in water-scarce areas, such as SE Spain, has promoted the use of non-conventional water resources such as DSW. That is why electricity consumption has increased around eightfold in these cultivation cases, using 100% of DSW for irrigation. Therefore, renewable energies are important in counterbalancing farming electricity consumption increases, as Martin-Gorriz et al.  highlighted in a study on greenhouse tomato production irrigated with DSW, where a 53% increase in the use of renewable energy in the production of electricity led to a 17% reduction in GHG emissions.
- Improving water use efficiency. Improving irrigation water use efficiency contributes to cutting down the energy consumption for water management and irrigation in the same proportion. In this sense, in the last 10 years the water consumption by irrigation in Spain fell by 15% ; and in 2018 the water volume applied by drip irrigation in Spain was 53%, reaching 86% in the case of the ADUs linked to the TSWT . These data show the commitment of practitioners (farmers and technicians) in the study area to a more sustainable and efficient agriculture.On the one hand, advances in irrigation systems as well as new technologies, such as wireless sensor networks and remote sensing tools, can be applied to further improve irrigation efficiency in vegetables and woody crops [71,72]. Consequently, it is possible to reduce energy consumption whilst improving water use efficiency through comprehensive irrigation management. In such a way, Gonzalez Perea et al.  achieved a 15% reduction in energy consumption by implementing more efficient irrigation and water management practices, with no significant yield reduction. Qureshi , improving on-farm irrigation management, achieved a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions in Pakistan. Cvejic et al.  also reduced the irrigation-volume consumption by 25% and the GHG emissions by 24%, through the adoption of irrigation-decision support systems tools in Vipava Valley (Slovenia). On the one hand, prioritising crops with lower water footprints and higher dietary efficiency, provided they are still profitable for farmers, is key to reduce the water demand. A recent study looking at the water footprint of 50 Mediterranean crops (including most of the crops of this study) demonstrated the importance of selecting agro-systems not only based on the irrigation efficiency but also accounting for the crop dietary efficiency as well as the economic productivity and efficiency .
- Adoption of soil carbon sequestration practices. Organic amendments, residue incorporation, reduced tillage or crop rotation can reach 4 per mille or even higher soil carbon sequestration rates . Organic amendment additions represent direct inputs of organic carbon into the soil systems. In Mediterranean woody crops a combination of inter-row plant covers with organic amendments like pruning residues have been reported to be a successful carbon sequestration practice . For Mediterranean vegetable crops, rotations that include agro-ecological service crops combined with the addition of green manure have been demonstrated to be very efficient in terms of carbon sequestration . Tillage reduction implies higher crop residue retention and lower fuel consumption [80,81], but it is environmentally beneficial only if not replaced by polluting herbicides. Overall, the key aspect here is the fact that the CO2 captured from the atmosphere and incorporated into the plants stays within in the agro-systems with these practices, rather than being released back to the atmosphere.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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|Crop||Surface Area (ha)||Percentage (%)|
|Non-citrus (fleshy fruit)||12,165.3||12.30|
|Cereals, spring (maize)||51.1||0.1|
|Crop Group||Crop||CO2 Fixation|
|Non-citrus (fleshy fruit)||Apricot||−84.49||204||−17.24|
|Water Scenario||Crop Group||GHG Emissions|
(t CO2 eq/ha-Year)
|W0||Outdoor vegetables *||13.02||−15.91||−2.89|
|W1||Outdoor vegetables *||14.90||−15.91||−1.01|
|W2||Outdoor vegetables *||20.43||−15.91||4.52|
|Scenario||GHG Emissions||CO2 Removal||CO2 Balance|
|Total (t CO2 eq/year)||991,744||−2,177,828||−1,208,084|
|Specific (t CO2 eq/ha-year)||9.61||−22.57||−12.96|
|Total (t CO2 eq/year)||1,118,748||−2,177,828||−1,081,080|
|Specific (t CO2 eq/ha-year)||10.84||−22.57||−11.73|
|Total (t CO2 eq/year)||1,492,552||−2,177,828||−707,276|
|Specific (t CO2 eq/ha-year)||14.47||−22.57||−8.10|
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Martin-Gorriz, B.; Martínez-Alvarez, V.; Maestre-Valero, J.F.; Gallego-Elvira, B. Influence of the Water Source on the Carbon Footprint of Irrigated Agriculture: A Regional Study in South-Eastern Spain. Agronomy 2021, 11, 351. https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11020351
Martin-Gorriz B, Martínez-Alvarez V, Maestre-Valero JF, Gallego-Elvira B. Influence of the Water Source on the Carbon Footprint of Irrigated Agriculture: A Regional Study in South-Eastern Spain. Agronomy. 2021; 11(2):351. https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11020351Chicago/Turabian Style
Martin-Gorriz, Bernardo, Victoriano Martínez-Alvarez, José Francisco Maestre-Valero, and Belén Gallego-Elvira. 2021. "Influence of the Water Source on the Carbon Footprint of Irrigated Agriculture: A Regional Study in South-Eastern Spain" Agronomy 11, no. 2: 351. https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11020351