Blasting the Zombie Out of Water-Saving Technology

A group of scientists, including experts from the University of Adelaide, believes that relying on modern irrigation technology as a water efficiency strategy is a “zombie idea” that will continue no matter how much evidence against it is presented.

In an article published in “Environmental Research Letters”, the international research team reviewed more than 200 supporting research articles and found that the use of technology as a water-saving method to improve irrigation efficiency is ineffective and will actually exacerbate water shortages .

“This is because although you can save water per hectare of land on the farm, you are usually encouraged to use the saved water for production, so there is no ‘saving’ in the use equation. Total water,” said the collaborator. Author Adam. Locke, Associate Professor, Global Food and Resource Center, University of Adelaide.

“This idea sounds logical, but a closer look at the data reveals the opposite. Investment in water efficiency will increase local water consumption and cause aquifers to deplete.

“We have known it for decades, but despite this knowledge, the idea still exists and thrives.”

The paper identified several reasons why we still insist on the idea of ​​saving water with modern application technologies (such as drip irrigation) in the face of evidence to the contrary, including beliefs and decisions that were previously difficult to reverse.

“We have never understood the limitations of this technology. Under ideal conditions, it can only achieve water saving of 10% to 20% at most, and water saving is usually used for new production.”-University of Adelaide World Food and Associate Professor Adam Loch, Resource Center.

Researchers believe that some of the main players who continue to support the “zombie idea” include companies that sell water-saving equipment; politicians who like simple popular solutions; and donor organizations, who want simple investment options instead of dealing with difficulties And unpopular choice.

Associate Professor Loch said: “Some of these groups may easily advocate water conservation, but when it doesn’t bring real long-term savings, they don’t have to carry it with them.”

“We have been unable to understand the limitations of the technology. Under ideal conditions, we can only achieve savings of 10% to 20% at most, and the saved water is often used for new production,” said Dr. David Adamson, co-author of the center. Major in Global Food and Resources at Dredder University.

“Most farmers will not choose to invest in these technologies without financial assistance such as subsidies because they know the limitations of these systems and their ability to make higher profits.”

This result has been observed all over the world, and there is increasing attention in arid areas that use the supply of non-renewable fossil aquifers (deep underground reservoirs) to maintain agricultural production.

Dr. Adamson said: “A regrettable and’inconvenient’ fact is that the prosperous modernization touted to improve water efficiency does not save water in our aquifers or in our rivers.”

So why do some governments continue to promote drip irrigation? The author puts forward several reasons, including companies encouraging the sale of equipment, and farmers very grateful for government subsidies (up to 90% in some places).

“Subsidies can help them switch to higher-value perennial crops (such as almonds) and increase local production without having to understand the risk of water shortages due to drought and climate change in the future,” said Dr Adamson.

“In the short term, this is a good thing for these farmers. But when drought occurs, they will face greater vulnerability and debt. It is expected that droughts will be more frequent in the future.”

Associate Professor Loch said that although recent evidence that improving irrigation efficiency tends to increase water consumption continues to be ignored, the reliability of future water supply is declining.

“We need to publicize that modernization and other irrigation subsidy investments are not a panacea for saving water and maintaining our agricultural production systems in the future.”

In their research, the team outlined plans for future water-saving interventions. The plan includes proper water use accounting before and after the intervention to accurately measure energy savings, interact with engineers to better understand modernization constraints, and inform downstream users how they will be affected to ensure that the changes are reasonable and positive.

“Finally, be prepared to implement these changes during the next shock (such as a drought), and when stakeholders’ resistance to change weakens, you can finally end this zombie idea,” said Associate Professor Locke.

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