In response to the increasing demand from the food industry for fresh produce, many farms located in the administrative county of Morbihan (Brittany, France) have intensified their vegetable crop production (e.g. peas, beans, spinach) due to their high value. To obtain the best yields and to respect contracts signed with industrial partners, irrigation has been widely used by the farming community to support this production. Since 1989, 500 to 600 ha/year of irrigated farmland have been developed with financial support from state, regional and county agencies. The official purpose of this financing program is to irrigate 50% of the fields cultivated for vegetable crops. Water use for irrigation was estimated to be 6 million m3 in 1999. The demand for irrigation coincides with the period of low water levels in the stream. Thus, there is strong competition with drinking water demands and ecological flow requirements. Moreover, the potential use of groundwater to fulfill these demands is not possible. One of the solutions is to build small headwater dams to store winter flows and use this resource during the growing season. In order to help local public authorities assess their strategy, we need to develop a robust quantification method to study the impact of this development.
The 302 km2 Yvel watershed is the site of a highly developed region of small headwater dams because the geological substratum is composed mainly of schist with low groundwater reserves, precipitation is less than the regional average, and the industrial demand for vegetable crops is high. For all these reasons, this watershed is particularly vulnerable. Moreover, from a regional policy point of view, the downstream part of the watershed is located within the Morbihan county whereas the upstream part is located within the Côtes d'Armor and Ille et Vilaine counties, which do not provide any financial support for irrigation development. The current concentration of headwater irrigation dams reflects these regional development incentives as dams are mostly built in the downstream part of the watershed.
To study the impact of small headwater dams on watershed hydrology, we propose a conceptual tool built around a geomorphological instantaneous unit hydrograph (GIUH) modelling approach. The GIUH structure, which is based on the effective watershed normalized area function and an estimated mean flow velocity, allows for the explicit accounting of dams and, and thus, can be used for a priori assessment studies. It can also be used in a semi-distributed perspective, where spatial discretization is determined from rainfall variabilities instead of gauging station constraints. These two points allowed us to study three regional irrigation development scenarios: construction of 100, 200 and 300 future headwater irrigation dams. Using two observed rainfall events, we showed that the simulated hydrograph shape at the watershed outlet can be significantly modified. In conclusion, in situ observations and simulation results suggest that : (1) headwater dams do not have any impact when reservoirs are full - lamination is locally observed and thus, does not have any impact on the watershed hydrograph; (2) a spatially homogeneous implementation of headwater dams modifies the watershed hydrograph according to a contributing watershed area ratio; similar behaviour is observed for low water level periods; and (3) localized implementation can be studied through modelling with enough precision to give relevant information to decision makers.
Headwater dams; prospective scenario; geomorphological unit hydrograph; semi-distributed rainfall runoff model.