A team of scientists, including experts from the University of Adelaide, suggest that reliance on modern irrigation technologies as a water-use efficiency strategy is a ‘zombie idea’ – one that persists no matter how much evidence is thrown against it.
In a paper in Environmental Research Letters, the international research team reviewed more than 200 supporting research articles and found technology adoption as a water-saving method for improving irrigation efficiency is ineffective, and can actually worsen water scarcity.
“This is because, while water may be saved per hectare on a farm, it typically encourages taking those water savings and putting them back into production, thus there are no ‘savings’ from the total water use equation,” said co-author Adam Loch, Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Global Food and Resources.
“It’s an idea that sounds logical, but a hard look at the data shows just the opposite. Water-use efficiency investments can actually increase local water consumption and contribute to aquifer depletion.
“We’ve known this for decades, but despite such knowledge, this idea persists and flourishes.”
The paper identifies several reasons why, in the face of contrary evidence, the idea that modern application technology (e.g. drip irrigation) saves water consumption persists, including beliefs and prior decisions that are hard to reverse.
“We continually fail to understand the limitations of technology, which at best may only achieve a 10-20 per cent saving under ideal conditions, and where saved water is often placed into new production.” — Associate Professor Adam Loch, the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Global Food and Resources.
The researchers suggest, some of the key players who continually support the ‘zombie idea’ include those who sell water-use efficiency equipment; politicians who prefer simple popularist solutions; and donor organizations who want easy investable options, rather than dealing with hard and unpopular choices.
“It may be easy for some of these groups to champion water-use efficiency, but they don’t have to carry the can when it fails to deliver real savings long-term,” said Associate Professor Loch.
“We continually fail to understand the limitations of technology, which at best may only achieve a 10-20 percent saving under ideal conditions, and where saved water is often placed into new production,” said Dr David Adamson, co-author from the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Global Food and …….