Mean water allocation for irrigation in Europe
Assessment made on 01 Oct 2003
ClassificationWater (Primary theme)
- WQ 02a
Policy issue: Is the use of water by sectors sustainable?
The amount of water used for irrigation has increased in southern Europe and some western central countries in the 1990s, and in some countries it is likely to continue to increase
Southern European countries have the largest area of irrigated land in Europe, and use around three times more water per unit of irrigated land than other parts of Europe
In the central accession countries, the amount of water used for irrigation has decreased over the same period, largely because of the deterioration, and non-use, of irrigation systems in these countries
Agriculture is the largest water-consuming sector, in particular for irrigation. The role of irrigation differs between countries and regions because of climatic conditions. In southern Europe, it is an essential element of agricultural production, whereas in central and northern Europe, irrigation is generally used to improve production in dry summers. A major influence on the amount of irrigated land in the EU has been the common agricultural policy which regulates the type and quantity of crops grown.
The area of irrigated land in western southern and southern accession countries increased steadily between 1993 and 1999, whereas in western Europe it remained relatively constant, and in central accession countries it steadily decreased. Southern European countries (western and accession) account for 74 % of the total irrigated area in Europe. In countries such as Turkey, it is expected to further increase in the near future following new irrigation developments. Changes in the economic structure and land ownership, and the consequent collapse of large-scale irrigation and drainage systems and agriculture production have been the main drivers for the agriculture changes in the past 10 years in the central accession countries.
The mean water allocation for agriculture increased from around 4 700 to 5 600 m3/ha/ year between 1993 and 1999. There were, however, large differences between regions and countries. In southern countries it is three to four times higher than anywhere else and an increase from around 6 100 to 7 200 m3/ ha/year was observed over this period, largely due to the increase in Cyprus, Spain and Turkey. Portugal had the largest per unit consumption in these countries in 1999. France showed a 50 % reduction over this period even though the irrigated area increased, thus implying some increase in irrigation water efficiency and/or changes in the crops being irrigated. In most western (central and Nordic) countries, the mean water allocation has decreased, with the exception of Denmark and the UK, where water used per irrigated area has increased steadily from 1993 to 1999. The mean per unit water consumption in central accession countries decreased steadily from 1 250 in 1993 to 500 m3/ha/year in 1999. This is because, even though large areas may be equipped for irrigation, they are not necessarily irrigated. This is due to economic changes and difficulties in these countries.
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This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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