Rainwater harvesting, broadly defined as the collection and storage of surface runoff, has a long history in supplying water for agricultural purposes. Despite its significance, rainwater harvesting in small reservoirs has previously been overlooked in large-scale assessments of agricultural water supply and demand. We used a macroscale hydrological model, observed climate data and other physical datasets to explore the potential role of small, localized rainwater harvesting systems in supplying water for irrigated areas. We first estimated the potential contribution of local water harvesting to supply currently irrigated areas. We then explored the potential of supplemental irrigation applied to all cropland areas to increase crop evapotranspiration (or green water flow), using locally stored surface runoff in small reservoirs for different scenarios of installed reservoir capacity. The estimated increase in green water flow varied between 623 and 1122 km3 a1 . We assessed the implications of this increase in green water flows for cereal production by assuming a constant crop water productivity in areas where current levels of crop yield are below global averages. Globally, the supplemental irrigation of existing cropland areas could increase cereal production by 35% for a medium variant of reservoir capacity, with large potential increases in Africa and Asia. As small reservoirs can significantly impact the hydrological regime of river basins, we also assessed the impacts of small reservoirs on downstream river flow and quantified evaporation losses from small reservoirs.


Earth Sciences

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Journal of Hydrology



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