Irrigation efficiency and quality of irrigation return flows in the Ebro River Basin: an overview

Environ Monit Assess. 2006 Jun;117(1-3):451-61. doi: 10.1007/s10661-006-0763-8.


The review analysis of twenty two irrigation efficiency (IE) studies carried out in the Ebro River Basin shows that IE is low (average IE)(avg)(= 53%) in surface-irrigated areas with high-permeable and shallow soils inadequate for this irrigation system, high (IE)(avg)(= 79%) in surface-irrigated areas with appropriate soils for this system, and very high (IE)(avg)(= 94%) in modern, automated and well managed sprinkler-irrigated areas. The unitary salt (total dissolved solids) and nitrate loads exported in the irrigation return flows (IRF) of seven districts vary, depending on soil salinity and on irrigation and N fertilization management, between 3-16 Mg salt/ha x year and 23-195 kg NO)(3) (-)-N/ha x year, respectively. The lower nitrate loads exported from high IE districts show that a proper irrigation design and management is a key factor to reduce off-site nitrogen pollution. Although high IE's also reduce off-site salt pollution, the presence of salts in the soil or subsoil may induce relatively high salt loads (>or=14 Mg/ha x year) even in high IE districts. Two important constrains identified in our revision were the short duration of most surveys and the lack of standards for conducting irrigation efficiency and mass balance studies at the irrigation district level. These limitations {emphasize the need for the establishment of a permanent and standardized network of drainage monitoring stations for the appropriate off-site pollution diagnosis and control of irrigated agriculture.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Rivers
  • Spain
  • Water / chemistry*


  • Water