Monday 5
Water, food and social-ecological resilience
Sylvestre Delmotte, Christo Fabricius
› 11:05 - 18:00 (6h55)
› PNR Camargue
Efficiency of water use: a win-win solution? Strengthening resilience in water resources management
Aurélien Dumont  1@  
1 : Observatorio del Agua, Faculty of Geology, Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Efficiency in the use of water resources – the idea of producing more with less – is currently high on the list of strategies to meet current and future needs of water services. It has received much attention in recent decades, with, for example, the call to reduce the amount of water that is ‘wasted' by traditional agricultural practices and to switch to more efficient systems (e.g. sprinkler and drip irrigation). This would result in a win-win situation since water use would be more productive and water savings could be shared between potential new uses and the environment. However, the existence of an ‘efficiency trap' has been also denounced: water savings obtained through efficiency may be fictitious since they correspond to water that was previously already flowing downstream, sustaining other uses and the environment (Molle & Turral, 2004).

In this context, the objective of this presentation is twofold. First, it questions the conditions for water savings and a win-win situation: does it constitute the rule or the exception? Then, it aims at confronting the significance of a more efficient system as compared to a more resilient one in a context of climatic variability.

The presentation is mainly focused on irrigation, even if many observations are shared with other sectors. The underlying hypothesis is that shifting the irrigation technique is a major technological change: farmers practices are altered, other crops can be grown and water flows are reorganized in the river basin. The final use of water depends also of the interference of this change with the institutional conditions, such as water rights or water pricing. We show that in many cases, an increase in water consumption is inherent to a change in efficiency. This increase is not uniform and the users located upstream are privileged at the expense of downstream users and the environment. However, efficiency is still widely approached through a basic technical formula that overlooks these multiple dimensions and scales and considers ideal conditions. Some insights on the persistence of this view are then presented under an approach in terms of science studies (Van der Kooij et al., 2013).

The consequences of an increased efficiency on the resilience to droughts are also analyzed. It is shown that the impacts described above are exacerbated, and, consequently, economic losses and conflicts among user in the river basin. Thus, efficiency, such as optimality, could finally reduce resilience, which finally leads us to question the significance of the concept of efficiency as the objective to follow for water resources management. Here, some insights can be obtained from ecological economics.

All along the presentation, a case study in Spain, among others, serves as illustration.


Molle, F. and Turral, H. (2004) Demand management in a basin perspective: is the potential for water saving overestimated? International Conference on Water Demand Management. Dead Sea, Jordan.

Van der Kooij, S., Zwarteveen, M., Boesveld, H., & Kuper, M. (2013). The efficiency of drip irrigation unpacked. Agricultural Water Management, 123(3): 103–110.

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