Climate-proof Irrigation Strategies

Agriculture is a particularly sensitive sector to the potential impacts of climate change - modifications in cropping patterns, crop water requirements and the seasonal distribution of water demand are all possible. Besides climate change, there are other determinants that could lead to variations in the cropping pattern and water requirements, thus, irrigation infrastructure needs to be robust to cope with these potential threats.  

This case study deals with the CLIMATE RISK ASSESSMENT AND MANAGEMENT tasks that a water irrigation manager has to perform in order to assess and quantify the economic damages and risk posed by climate change to irrigated crops and identify the best adaptation/mitigation options in order to avoid or minimize the damages. Validated climate data and projections support the irrigation manager in assessing climate risk and managing better the water irrigation system under his responsibility. 

Climate services and indicators are useful to raise awareness on the challenges that climate change pose. There are currently no such kind of tools and data available to irrigation managers. The main message of this case study is: new tools and data give irrigation managers the possibility to evaluate climate risks and support irrigation risk management in the context of climate change.

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Figur1. Romagna Land Reclamation and Irrigation Authority (CBR) Study Area

Romagna Land Reclamation and Irrigation Authority (CBR) Study Area

 Case Study Description
Data Description
Reference information

Water-management issue to be addressed

Climate change, increasing pressure on farmland to satisfy the growing demand, and need agriculture to ensure both competitiveness and environmental quality require an increasing capacity of water management. The irrigation authorities are engaged in defining the operational drought management plan related to agricultural areas. The plan define a set of operative actions in order to face specific drought scenarios.

In this context a specific new indicator providing information related to the hydrological conditions of topsoil can be an effective means to save water, maximize crop protection and effectively manage the irrigation network in specific climate change drought conditions.

The main issue addressed by the indicator concerns the spatial mapping of soil hydro climatic balance (BIC) taking into account soil and crops properties, rainfall, temperature and evapotranspiration under climate change scenario.

Decision support to client

The two case studies described previously demonstrate how the SWICCA Wetness1 indicator can effectively support irrigation managers in the following:

  • assessing the suitability of the existing irrigation network under a climate change scenario;
  • quantifying the deficit or surplus of irrigation water;
  • evaluating investments in new infrastructures, improvements and mitigation and/or adaptation technologies and best practices;
  • assessing and identifying more sustainable crop practices;
  • quantifying damages to crops and yields.

The SWICCA Wetness1 indicator in connection with climate data represent key information that enable the introduction of climate change challenges in the decision cycle. Business as usual in decision-making does not yet take into account the challenges presented by climate change.

Temporal and spatial Scale

The evolution of BIC under climate change scenarios should be implemented for every agricultural district characterized by a spatial resolution of approximately 2 km.

The temporal scale the BIC is evaluated weekly or every 10 days (decadal) during the year, concerning the timeframe of climate change adaptation planning was selected between 5 and 30 years (average lifetime of a irrigation network is equal to 25 years)

Knowledge Brokering

The selection and design of SWICCA indicator has been made through a bottom-up approach characterized by a full involvement of the client. During 2015 and 2016, the client has been directly involved in four formal on-site meetings and was kept in permanent liaison (through email and telephone) in order to obtain useful feedback and problem solving suggestions.

The four formal on-site meetings concerned the following topics:

  • SWICCA project description, Problem Solving Analysis, Climate Change Challenged and SWICCA indicator definition
  • Data Collection and analysis
  • analysis and discussion of the downscaled Wetness1 indicator;
  • definition of real case studies and their application;

The first meeting with Client was held on the Dec 2015 with the following meeting in March 2016, which been focused in meteorological data collection and analysis in order to produce high spatial resolution data suitable for climate risk assessment and management.

The 3rd meeting took place in June 2016 has analyzed in detail the first outcomes from the downscaled version of the selected indicator. During this meeting has been remarked the following aspects:

  • The cumulative sum of Wetness1 absolute values can better describe the amount of water irrigation
  • The increasing in time duration (number od decadal) with cumulative sum of Wetness1 negative is an important indicator of climate risk
  • For a real case study application is very important to take into account the Irrigation amount (maximum irrigation capacity) and the evaporation crop coefficient kc, for this reason has been decided to insert the possibility to modify the Wetness1 taking into account those factors

The meeting held in Oct 2016 was focused on defining two real case study and in acquiring the data. The Castiglione and Branchise case study were defined in details and data concerning irrigation network capacity and crops characteristics were acquired.

The next meeting has been set for the beginning of the year (2017) in order to explore and discuss the overcomes from the developed real case study.

Climate Impact Indicators

Pan-European Indicators

The main indicator used in the irrigation strategies case study is the Wetness1 indicator. It is provided by the SWICCA interface at a decadal time frame resolution in absolute (mm/decadal) or relative change (%). In order to support irrigation strategies, absolute values of Wetness1 areas are reported as a cumulative sum to better evaluate the amount of irrigation water needed per specific crop. The user can modify the cumulative sum of the indicator by specifying the amount of water provided through irrigation and the evaporation crop coefficient (kc) for correcting the PET.

Local indicators

Neither local indicators for climate change scenarios nor decision support system are available. The client does not currently take into account climate change scenarios, both short- and long-term, in its decision-making process. The local indicators provided by the Emilia-Romagna Region entails only seasonal predictions without any information or data concerning the long-term scenarios.

Pan-European data to local scale


Step 1: Run and validate a soil water balance model in order to predict soil water content (SWC) or soil water budget (P-PET) in a climate change scenario. SWC is obtained as results from specific hydrological model (ex. LISFLOOD or EHYPE) while Soil Water Budget is simply calculated as difference between Precipitation and potential evapo-transpiration in climate change conditions.

Step 2: Spatial downscaling to a resolution of 1 or 2 km suitable for the case study

Step 3: Mapping SWC or P-PET with a temporal timeframe of 10 days in the study area.

Step 4: Mapping the climate change irrigation risk for agriculture in the study area and identification of area where adaptation or mitigation measures should be adopted.

Step 5: Define the plan of mitigation/adaptation measures.

Step 6: Define and evaluate the cost-benefit of multiple mitigation/adaptation measures:

  1. Temperature and Precipitation variation in climate change scenario
    1. Downscale at spatial resolution of 2 km
    2. Time scale 10 days
  2. Estimate ET and Soil Water Balance (BIC) using a soil water budget model (LISFLOOD FP)
  3. Map the BIC climate change variation in the study area
  4. Evaluate the economical and planning consequences

 Lessons learnt

Considering the entire workflow, the main successful factor in the suggested implementation of indicators are:

  • the AGILE approach and the flexibility of implementing climate change information (by downscaling SWICCA data to irrigation districts resolution ) inside the currently used and updated Soil Water Balance Indicator (BIC), clearly a saving time option for both the Authority and the Purveyor,
  • The online SWICCA demonstrator interface that is quite easy to use and to take data from for the area of interest.

Main Limiting factor is the necessity to identify the most reasonable subset of combinations and scenarios of C.C. to be implemented in the final indicators and to be used by the Client.

Importance and Relevance of Adaptation

Agriculture is an important economic driver and the main water demanding sector in Europe, and in the Emilia-Romagna Region in particular. An efficient management of irrigation water is key to tackle economic and environmental challenges. The SWICCA approach and climate data provide a valuable tool and support to the decision-making process, helping it to take steps towards sustainability and climate change resilience.

No climate change adaptation approach is currently used in assessing water resources and irrigation network planning and management for agricultural areas. The developed indicator will be an effective support in terms of planning future investments in water saving and irrigation. Expected effects of the proposed climate service for clients are envisaged in:

  • Sounder evaluation of the efficacy and appropriateness of the irrigation network in the future conditions of climate change.
  • Spatial identification of agricultural areas that in the future may suffer in terms of agricultural production as a result of water stress.
  • Long-term planning of mitigation measures in terms of water saving practices and new investment in upgrading the irrigation network.
  • Assessments of economic damage due to climate change and cost of adaptation/mitigation options.

Pros and Cons or Cost-Benefit analysis of climate adaptation

Without climate adaptation indicators, decision taken with (up to date) information on agricultural soil water resource availability and demand have a relatively short term validity, and arguably need frequent updates to monitor compatibility between resources and demand.

On the other side, indicators can be used for identifying irrigation deficit areas or  whether climate change will exacerbate or limit current soil water deficits. Thus, planning restrictive measures on withdrawals could be completed in advance and the necessity to invest in new irrigation infrastructure can be identified.

Policy aspects 

In Emilia-Romagna Region, actions have been planned to consider climate change effects in the management of water resources as reported in the Climate Change and Water Planning report (Regione Emilia Romagna 2003), the Water Protection Plan (2005) and the Regional Drought Management Plan. In particular, the last two documents refer to management of water resources in order to face drought and monitoring risks at local and regional scales, and identify appropriate short and long-term responses to drought in the agricultural and water provision sectors.

Romagna Land Reclamation and Irrigation Authority (CBR) performs a constant monitoring of water volumes conveyed in the territory. This is in regard to the pressure systems, and the volumes put into the drainage channels to use exclusive irrigation. Thus, they can act almost in real time on the adjustment of the hydraulic equipment to manage water resources in the most efficient manner possible. The proposed indicator can assist Irrigation Authority in defining and planning drought management plans by providing information to minimize economical and environmental damages on agricultural areas.

In particular three policy options are available in terms of irrigation water saving:

  • regulative approach: limitation of the installation of new higly water exigent crops (actinidia) or increase in the area of the existing ones;
  • tariff approach: establishment of a mc water tariff collected, varies based on water availability in the rivers, subject to the DMV;
  • market approach: allocation of water abstraction quotas determined based on actual water availability in the area, subject to maintaining the DMV of the summer months, based on the UAA producers and establishment of the allowance market (analogue of the allowance market carbon: those who consume more than the allocated quota must buy allowances from those who do not consume all their own).

    Policy aspects and decisions on this specific case study will be addressed in the next future meetings with the support of the client.



Stefano Bagli – GECOsistema srl – Stefano.bagli<a>

GECOsistema – Geographic Environmental Consulting


Consorzio di Bonifica della Romagna (Italy)

Romagna Land Reclamation and Irrigation Authority, Cesena, Italy



Relevant EU Policy


Purveyor: Stefano Bagli  – GECOsistema srl

Value added by Copernicus Climate Change Service: 



Client: Consorzio di Bonifica della Romagna (Italy)
Romagna Land Reclamation and Irrigation Authority, Cesena, Italy

c.p. Eng. Daniele Domenichini