Special Issue "Sustainable Irrigation and the Environment: the Role of Governance"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Wildlife".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 December 2020.

Special Issue Editors

Dr. James Oster
Guest Editor
Department of Environmental Sciences, University of California, Riverside, CA, USA
Interests: soil chemistry: soil salinity and sodicity; soil physics: salinity and sodicity effects on water infiltration and movement in soils; plant physiology: matric and osmotic effects on plant growth: irrigation water management: Environmental impacts of irrigated agriculture; water quality
Dr. Chris Perry
Guest Editor
Independent Researcher
Interests: water accounting; economics of water management

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,


Irrigated agriculture contributes some 60% of total global food and fiber production and is thus vital to feeding and clothing the world. In this process, the sector is also the most prolific consumer of water in many countries, and the major contributor to environmental problems such as aquifer depletion, land subsidence, seasonal drying of river flows, waterlogging, salinization of river water and aquifers, and chemical pollution from excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides causing pollution of the environment. Irrigated agriculture is thus the major contributor to quantitative scarcity of water, and a significant contributor to qualitative problems both to other users and to the irrigation sector itself. 

Meanwhile, the demand for fresh water for other sectors, often considered to be of higher priority, continues to grow, marginally offset by increased capture of municipal and industrial wastewater for irrigation. Irrigated agriculture thus simultaneously threatens water availability to other users (including the environment) and will be the primary loser if these alternative, higher-priority demands are fulfilled. 

Governance of Water Allocation

The current situation in many places, as outlined above, is unsustainable in the sense that current practices cannot continue indefinitely: Water supplies to some existing users will be reduced either through the natural processes that must follow from continuing excessive levels of use or through an orderly process of interventions that minimize the negative impacts of reducing allocations.  

Governance comprises three distinct elements: a political process through which stakeholders’ interests are reflected in priorities and objectives at the relevant level—for example, that domestic use should have priority over industry and agriculture, where orchards should be prioritized over field crops in times of drought. These priorities and objectives must then be translated into legally enforceable regulations, and agencies and institutions responsible for managing them within this framework must be established and equipped. An agreed understanding of the hydrological system, such that interventions can be evaluated in a way that all stakeholders accept, should underpin these three dimensions of governance. 

All these must be in place to ensure that “sustainability” actually happens, and the priorities, laws, and institutions must be coherent. 

Governance of Environmental impact

Food cannot be produced through irrigated agriculture without causing some quality degradation of surface and groundwaters—and the threat of damage to soils through water-logging and salinity. Again, if unchecked, these effects threaten the sustainability of irrigated agriculture itself as well as other water users, requiring governance through the three dimensions set out above to ensure sustainability. In this case, objectives are less to do with priorities among competing users and more to do with general standards that all water users should respect. The recognition by the public of the need to protect the environment in general has occurred at the same time as a resurgence of respect for the stewardship of land and water resources.


Papers are invited that address one or more of the following aspects of sustainability:

  • Providing an overview of the situation regarding excessive water use and its impacts;
  • Describing modes of governance (successful or otherwise) that have been adopted in specific cases to address quantity and quality issues;
  • Describing novel or successful techniques to measure and monitor water quantity and quality as a basis for progressing towards sustainable management.

Papers need to address how these improvements foster irrigation sustainability as well as equity of water allocation and control of environmental impacts. for any mode of irrigation—in arid zones, supplemental irrigation in humid regions, and protected cultivation in greenhouses.

Dr. James Oster
Dr. Chris Perry
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • water scarcity
  • aquifers
  • aquifer water balance
  • groundwater
  • land subsidence
  • river flows
  • water quality
  • salinization
  • chemical pollution
  • salt management
  • wastewater for irrigation
  • equity of water allocation
  • political processes
  • regulatory framework
  • laws
  • governance
  • supplemental irrigation
  • arid climates
  • humid climates
  • protected agriculture
  • greenhouse irrigation
  • water management
  • crop-water requirement
  • environment impacts of irrigation

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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