Impacts of climate change on reservoir water availability, quality and irrigation needs in a water scarce Mediterranean region (southern Portugal)

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Sep 20;736:139477. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.139477. Epub 2020 May 15.

Abstract

Future climate for the Mediterranean climatic region is expected to bring an increase in temperatures, decrease in the precipitation quantity and shifts in the seasonal precipitation pattern. Although the impacts of climate change on water resources have been relatively well explored for the Mediterranean climatic region, the specific consequences for reservoirs and, in particular, water availability and irrigation issues have been less studied. The objective of this work is two-fold: (i) to assess the impacts of future climate changes on water resources availability, quality (focusing on phosphorus loads as this is the limiting nutrient for eutrophication) and irrigation needs for two multipurpose reservoirs in southern Portugal; (ii) to suggest climate change adaptation strategies, especially for the agricultural sector. To this end, the SWAT model was first calibrated against existing data on reservoir inflows as well as phosphorus loads. Then, SWAT was run with climate derived EURO-CORDEX models (RCA4/RACMO22E) for four periods (1970-2000, 2010-2040, 2040-2070 and 2070-2100). Water availability was analysed using the Water Exploitation Index (WEI) that was calculated for both reservoirs combining changes of inflows and irrigation requirements. The results indicated that climate change will negatively impact water availability in both reservoirs, especially under RCP8.5. In the case of the Monte Novo reservoir, future domestic water supply could be constrained by water quality problems related with phosphorus loads. For Vigia reservoir, the high water exploitation will lead to water scarcity problems, mainly as this reservoir on present-day conditions is restrictive on irrigation requirements. Adaptation strategies such as the implementation of high end technology (e.g. soil moisture and plant water stress probes, satellite imagery and drones to evaluate water stress - NDVI) as well as the renewal of the irrigation network and adequate crop selection can help attenuating the effects of climate change on the water resources in this region.

Keywords: Alentejo multipurpose reservoirs; Climate change; SWAT modelling; WEI – Water exploitation index; Water availability.