Majes is one of the largest agricultural areas in the Arequipa region (southern Peru). Low seasonal precipitation and increasing water demands for agricultural irrigation, industry, and human consumption have made water supply projections a major concern. Agricultural development is becoming more extensive in this dry, sunny climate where crops can be grown year-round. However, because this type of project usually involves significant perturbations to the regional water cycle, understanding the effects of irrigation on local hydrology is crucial. Based on the watershed-scale Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), this investigation focuses on the impacts of intensive irrigation on hydrological responses in the Majes region. This study is unique because we allow for crop-field scale input within our regional-scale model to provide information at this smaller scale, which is important to inform local stakeholders and decision makers. Each hydrologic response unit (HRU) was generated to represent an individual crop field, so that management practices could be applied according to real-world scenarios. The management file of each HRU was modified to include different operation schedules for crop rotation, irrigation, harvest, and tillage. The model was calibrated and validated against monthly observed stream discharge during the 2009–2020 period. Additionally, evapotranspiration, irrigation water volume, and daily stream discharge downstream of the local river (Siguas) were used to verify the model performance. A total of 49 sub-basins and 4222 HRUs were created, with 3000 HRUs designated to represent individual crop fields. The simulation results revealed that infiltration from agricultural activities in Majes represents the majority of annual groundwater return flow, which makes a substantial contribution to streamflow downstream of the Siguas River. Simulations also suggested that groundwater flow processes and the interactions between surface and groundwater have a major impact on the water balance of the study area. Additionally, climate variability had a higher impact on surface runoff than on groundwater return flow, illustrating that the groundwater component in the study area is important for future water resources resiliency under expected climate change scenarios. Finally, there is a need to perform a follow-up implementation to provide a guideline for decision-makers to assess future sustainable water resources management under varying climatic conditions for this arid irrigated system.
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