Competition for water between agriculture and the environment is a growing problem in irrigated regions across the globe, especially in endorheic basins with downstream freshwater lakes impacted by upstream irrigation withdrawals. This study presents and applies a novel simulation-optimization (SO) approach for identifying water management strategies in such settings. Our approach combines three key features for increased exploration of strategies. First, minimum environmental flow requirements are treated as a decision variable in the optimization model, yielding more flexibility than existing approaches that either treat it as a precomputed constraint or as an objective to be maximized. Second, conjunctive use is included as a management option by using dynamically coupled surface water (WEAP) and groundwater (MODFLOW) simulation models. Third, multi-objective optimization is used to yield entire Pareto sets of water management strategies that trade off between meeting environmental and agricultural water demand. The methodology is applied to the irrigated Miyandoab Plain, located upstream of endorheic Lake Urmia in Northwestern Iran. Results identify multiple strategies, i.e., combinations of minimum environmental flow requirements, deficit irrigation, and crop selection, that simultaneously increase environmental flow (up to 16 %) and agricultural profit (up to 24 %) compared to historical conditions. Results further show that significant temporary drops in agricultural profit occur during droughts when long-term profit is maximized, but that this can be avoided by increasing groundwater pumping capacity and temporarily reducing the lake's minimum environmental flow requirements. Such a strategy is feasible during moderate droughts when resulting declines in groundwater and lake water levels fully recover after each drought. Overall, these results demonstrate the usefulness and flexibility of the methodology in identifying a range of potential water management strategies in complex irrigated endorheic basins like the Lake Urmia basin.
- Conjunctive use
- Environmental flow requirement
- Multi-objective optimization