Interactions between "water and societies" dynamics and adaptations

Based on their understanding of the interdependencies between water and society, this team analyzes the consequences of the changes and disturbances hydrological territories have to face: adaptations to perceived changes, developmental trajectories of the systems, to qualifying changes in vulnerabilities and foreseeing the dynamics generated by adaptive actions at system level by including potential feedback.


As surface water resources become fully exploited in many river basins worldwide, groundwater is increasingly exploited by cities, industry, and agriculture. Groundwater is key to agriculture and supplies 38% of irrigated areas worldwide and contributes 43% of its water consumption. Likewise, it is estimated that groundwater supplies domestic water to at least 50% of the world population. 


But from Morocco to China, California to Chile, the water levels in major aquifers are dropping at alarming rates, with little evidence of solutions to this unsustainable evolution. About 1.7 billion people are believed to live in areas where groundwater resources and/or groundwater-dependent ecosystems are under threat from overexploitation. Nearly a third of the world's largest aquifers are being depleted faster than they can be replenished. Unsustainable groundwater use is therefore threatening the key role of groundwater in agricultural and human use and the crucial buffer it provides in times of water shortages.


In contrast, other groundwater resources (typically in so-called heterogeneous environments) are poorly known and little exploited and have potential for further development.


G-Eau’s 'Groundwater team' is devoted to exploring the physical, technical, institutional and socio-political conditions that promote the sustainable use of groundwater resources. Its interdisciplinary research addresses both thematic and cross-cutting issues such as:

  • Aquifer co-management between users and the state
  • Groundwater demand Management
  • Groundwater and groundwater-dependant ecosystems
  • Managed aquifer recharge (MAR)
  • Groundwater understanding and modelling of hydrogeological processes
  • Groundwater quality in anthropogenic regions
  • Surface water-groundwater interactions
  • Coastal aquifers / intrusion


The team's main research activities are concentrated in France (including FWI) and Europe, Brazil, the Maghreb, the Middle-East, India and the lower Mekong Basin, with occasional collaborations in countries such as Chile or Australia. A focus on the specificity of semi-arid areas is due to the fact that many activities are carried out in the Mediterranean area and in the Sahel.


Team leaders: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



Innovation and Change in Irrigated Agriculture

This team aims to study the dynamics of irrigated agriculture, at the level of local territories (which may be irrigated perimeters, aquifers and the irrigated farms that use them). In these irrigated areas, the functioning of farms, the management of water, agricultural economics and public action are interdependent. The study of the dynamics of irrigated agriculture concerns both processes of internal change, which can take the form of technical and institutional innovations, and the impacts of such processes. This includes recognizing the innovations that make it possible to take up the challenge of ecological intensification, and consequently to incorporate environmental issues from a descriptive, analytical, but also experimental perspective. The team also studies how irrigated agriculture adapts to physical, economic and political changes that are subject to strict management rules designed outside the local territories by the state, donors, etc. There is also a need to study how to help family farms survive increased competition upstream (especially for water resources) as well as downstream (competition on the markets for agricultural products) as well as strict land restructuring policies.


The main research questions tackled by this team are:

  1. Farms. What new forms of organization of agricultural production exist and what are the impacts of these different forms of organization on irrigated land? In particular, what are the new models of family farming? What are the capacities of these farms to control their links with the agricultural sector, water management, and public policies on irrigated territories? What are the consequences of the hydro-agricultural practices of family farms within the territory (within the irrigated area, the catchment area, etc.) and how do they all fit together? What is the place of family farms and what role can they play in sectoral irrigation policies that are designed and promoted at national and even international levels?

  2. Other actors in irrigated areas. Who are the other actors in these areas? In particular, which actors play a role as intermediaries between farms and sectors, water management and public action (in sales, in the implementation of development projects as development brokers, etc.)? How are irrigation policies designed?

  3. The conception and dissemination of social and technical innovations. What are the catalysts and limiting factors for innovation? What are the social, economic, and environmental impacts of these innovations at different scales (from the farm to the irrigated area)?

  4. Global change factors. How can external change factors (in particular global change) and the length of time required for the analysis of local territories be taken into account? How to build local scenarios of adaptation to global change?

In addition to their role as analysts, the researchers in this team can play a supportive role by designing participatory approaches to strengthen the role of local stakeholders in the dynamics of these irrigated areas.

Governance and Public Action (GPA) - !!!! Provisional content !!!!

This team comprises seven researchers and three PhD students. The domains they cover are political science, water management, sociology and geography.

The knowledge and practices linked to water resources, the methods of governance and regulation of uses, are undergoing major restructuring that has to be understood and compared because they already have - or may have - unexpected impacts on the environment. The team tackles these issues through the analysis of controversies and existing public water policies.


The team is actively involved in four main study areas:

  • Southern Africa: South Africa and Mozambique.

  • South-East Asia: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand

  • France.  All the team members are - and will be - involved in different projects (at regional scale and/or sub-regional scale)

  • North Africa: Morocco: national scale projects, Saïss, Tensift/Marrakech, Tadla; Tunisia: national level, the Merguellil wadi

Finally, the team is also interested in South American territories through completed projects and ongoing projects in Brazil, for example.


The main themes and projects under study are:

  • Knowledge, controversies and the problem of pollution

  • Governance, national and local water policies

  • Effects of state reforms

  • Police / Justice

Optimization of steering and irrigation technologies: Reducing inputs, environmental transfers

This team (Optimization of steering and irrigation technologies: reducing inputs, environmental transfers) comprises 11 researchers, 6 engineers and technicians and 4 or 5 contract staff and PhD students. The major issues that structure the team's research are the adaptation of the systems of agriculture production in the face of climate change, recycling water in agriculture, the link between "water, energy and food", and agro-ecological transitions.


The main research topics are:

  • Water productivity in agrosystems particularly in irrigated areas, and reducing inputs (water, fertilizers, energy)
  • The environmental impacts/services and sanitary risks linked with irrigation
  • Sustainability /improving the performance of irrigation technologies, using water of different quality.


The scales of application start at m² and go up to the farm holding, and even to the collective irrigation system. Fluid mechanics, hydrology, agronomy, geophysics, process engineering, and metrology are the main fields of study used to tackle these subjects. The team relies on experimental approaches and numerical modeling using external or in-house models (including the Pilote crop model and OptiReg).


Laboratory experiments and field trials are used by this team for fine analyses.


In the laboratory:

Photo5 Eq Optimiste

The PRESTI platform (belonging to IRSTEA, a French research institute) enables the use of test beds (for the development of biofilms), of the PIV laser room, and of the sprinkling stand.


Photo6 Eq OptimisteThe SupAgro hydraulic facility makes it possible to replicate flows in free surface channels or distribution networks (


In the field:

Photo7 Eq Optimiste PrestiThe PRESTI platform includes 3.5 ha of experimental plots to test different irrigation systems (gravity, sprinkler, localized surface or buried) and different cropping practices (conventional soil preparation, or minimum till, permanent vegetation cover)




Photo2 Eq OptimisteThe Domaine du Merle (SupAgro, Salon-de-Provence) has 150 ha under gravity irrigation (channels and plots) to test different irrigation practices (gravity and sprinkler).





Photo8 Eq Optimiste CrauOther sites (including Gignac) allow the analysis of processes in real conditions, with no effect of scale (the performance of hydraulic structures, the impact and management of newly developed plants, for example).








In 2014 and 2015, research by this team produced two prototypes and patents:

A broad range tensiometer Photo9 Eq Optimiste TSE




A sprinkler for waste waters (DA-EU®) Photo10 Eq Optimiste DA EU





The team is involved in many research projects (ANR, Eranet, Arimnet, H2020, etc.) and enjoys international collaboration  in Europe, North Africa, and Brazil in particular. It is also very involved in higher education (in particular in a ‘Master in Water and Agriculture’ - and has many links with institutions in the irrigation sector via AFEID.

Hydraulic management, optimization and water transfer supervision

This team ("Hydraulic Management, Optimization and Supervision of Water Transfers") comprises a dozen researchers, PhD students, engineers and technicians and conducts research on the management of free-surface hydraulic systems such as irrigation canals, streams, rivers and sanitation networks. The disciplines involved are hydraulics, hydrology, optimization, automation and data assimilation. The spatial scale begins at local structures (water intake, weirs, valves) and goes up to the whole watershed. The time scale ranges from minutes to several months. This team is made up of a dozen researchers, PhD students, engineers and technicians.


Photo1 Ghoste The term "Optimization" ranges from optimization of water towers to that of an irrigated perimeter, optimization of the parameters of automatic controllers, but also the optimal design of infrastructure (choice and positioning of control structures, canals sizing, etc.), and the optimal positioning of sensors. The management of dams also uses deterministic or stochastic optimization approaches.




Photo5 Ghoste

Photo4 Ghoste


The term "Supervision" also refers to a project that is already completed that culminated with the interfacing of our hydraulic modeling software SIC2 and the supervision of the Gignac canal (CPER project and GIS Gignac).



The term "Supervision" refers the problem of real-time use of data measured in the field and their exploitation for management, using data assimilation techniques. Management includes the detection of problems or failures, the reconstruction of unmeasured inputs, the reconstruction of the internal states required for estimation and prediction.


Photo3 GhosteThe data can come from in-situ measurements, or remote sensing.



The future SWOT satellite, CNES-NASA mission




Photo6 GhosteThe term "Water Transfer" means that the systems we are interested in are not only irrigation canals, but also natural streams and rivers in France and abroad, management networks, sanitation networks, watersheds, and exotic systems. Such systems interest this team as long as they include dams, valves, weirs, pumps, and consequently management problems. These general objectives necessarily include the specificities related to the context of hydro-agricultural developments.



Photo7 GhosteAs support for their research, for the dissemination and exploitation of their results well as for training and teaching, the team develops simulation software. A preferred tool is SIC2 software (Integrated Simulation of Canals and their Control,





Photo2 Ghoste

Other software developed by the team are OSIRRIS for the optimization of water towers, and TGR-GRP for operational flood forecasting.






There is no translation available.

Le vendredi 10 avril 2015, Alexandre Gaudin (Anthropologue) a présenté ses travaux en cours "Ce que les ingénieries de la nature font aux ressources en eau et à leurs régimes d’accès. Les cas d’un projet de modernisation d’un périmètre irrigué et d’une politique publique de gestion intégrée de l’eau en France."

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