Water Resources and Uses

Assessing water resources, particularly marginal water resources, is essential for supporting ICBA's country partners in managing their valuable resources in a sustainable manner.

ICBA uses specific modeling tools to quantify fresh and marginal water availability and assess the deterioration in water quality, particularly salinity, to determine the causes behind this deterioration and to provide strategic solutions through integrated water resources planning. These types of water include surface water, groundwater, desalinated water, treated wastewater and drainage water.

Groundwater is the main source of water for agricultural uses in many countries. Understanding the hydrogeological pattern, flow of groundwater, aquifer storage and transport of contaminants (due to pathogenic impacts) is essential to manage groundwater resources in a sustainable manner. ICBA’s research adopts a groundwater zoning approach in terms of water quantity and quality, and matches water availability and quality with soil suitability to maximize crop productivity.

Surface water is a vital renewable resource and is an essential water resource in many countries. ICBA coordinates and provides scientific support to manage river basins under climate change and desertification conditions using an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach. Similarly, ICBA works to identify and assess innovative water capture and storage approaches that can be applied in smaller areas like watersheds. 

In water-scarce countries such as those in the Middle East and North Africa, safe use of treated wastewater is increasingly becoming a necessity and some countries have even started including wastewater in their water budgets. ICBA is expanding its research and programs to improve the safe use of treated wastewater for agricultural production. This includes assessing the availability and potential of treated wastewater quantities and qualities, guidelines, innovation and on-farm management and best practices.

Likewise, reuse of drainage water has proved to be viable and ICBA’s research also focuses on assessing drainage water quantity and quality including the nutrition content, causes and effects, determining potential uses of this low quality resource, and how this can help to protect the environment.

Use of brackish water and sea water for agricultural production is a very attractive concept especially the latter for arid and semi-arid regions that have access to seawater. However, in practice, producing a product that is economically viable and environmentally sound has been limited to mangroves and a few other wild/domesticated plant species that have proved successful under field conditions. In this area ICBA is working on screening, evaluating and domesticating halophytes for food and bioenergy. ICBA's research on halophytes extends from those that can be grown with brackish water salinity levels to halophytes that can be grown with pure sea water.

Optimizing on-farm water use through good irrigation management is essential for water conservation under arid and saline conditions. ICBA works on assessing, adapting and developing innovations in irrigation technologies and improved on-farm practices that reduce water losses and at the same time are affordable, feasible and relevant to farmers in marginal environments. This requires maintaining soil water content in the root zone within a range high enough for crops to easily use water but without incurring waste due to unnecessary downward movement below the root zone.

ICBA has worked in many countries to encourage farmers to use appropriate high-efficiency irrigation systems such as sprinkler, surface and sub-surface drip irrigation systems. The impact of these initiatives was an evident reduction in water losses and an improvement in water productivity.

Through the use of the latest automated sensor technologies, ICBA supports initiatives that utilize weather-based estimates of evapo-transpiration and crop water requirements to enable cost-effective, near-continuous monitoring of water content and movement in the soil as a tool for irrigation management. ICBA uses such systems for automated sensor-based control and monitoring of irrigation for research, demonstration and up-scaling for adoption by commercial-sized farms in marginal environments.