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Management of water, uses, services and infrastructures

In summary

In a word

  • 81 permanent staff including 72 researchers, engineers and engineers
  • 35 top-ranking publications per year on average
  • 5 software programmes and 3 patents
  • 2 incubated enterprises: Lisode and Ecofilae
  • 1 research and experimentation platform in irrigation science and technology

Four lines of scientific research

  • Wastewater recycling
  • Stewardship and management of water-related infrastructures
  • Public policies, management of water-related services and risks
  • Transfers of water, contaminants and sediment in the urban and agricultural water transport equipment

Editorial : water, a resource to be conserved and shared

With a predicted 9 billion inhabitants on Earth by 2050, the demand for water for agricultural, domestic and energy use is set to increase, raising acute management problems. In the medium term, the expected scale of climate change will have a very significant impact on the seasonal distribution of water resources. On the issue of irrigated farming, this poses new questions with respect to the demand for agricultural water, resources used (wastewater, groundwater), irrigation techniques, transport in the water networks and dam management. In the urban areas, clean water services
are facing new challenges: water transport infrastructures are ageing (on average in France, 25% of clean water is lost in the soil), new pollutants are emerging and citizen consumers are keen to be more involved in water management. At the regional level, these agricultural and urban issues intersect and are leading to new intersectoral approaches.

In an attempt to provide some responses to these critical issues, the research topic GEUSI (Management of water, uses, services and infrastructures) brings together and builds synergies between four crosscutting areas recycling of wastewater to diversify the resource: stewardship and management of water-related infrastructures; public policies and management of water-related services and risks; optimization of water management in the urban water and irrigation infrastructures. Its research mobilizes a large number of disciplines in the sphere of physical and life sciences (hydraulics, fluid mechanics and agronomy) and in human and social sciences (economics, management sciences, geography, sociology and political sciences).

The ambition of Irstea is to strengthen its partnership with the public and private water management agencies in France; with this in view, the research topic is designed to produce software, methodology guides and patents and is fully committed to an approach incorporating the incubation of start-ups. In Montpellier, scientists are participating in the work being done by the new Montpellier Institute for water and the environment (IM2E), situated close to the global Competitiveness centre on water and to the water sector business incubator, Swelia (water companies’ network). The expert knowledge that Irstea brings to the irrigation sector is also exported internationally through the French association for water, irrigation and drainage (AFEID).

Selected research projects

Flood risk: using memories to create management policies of the future


A complete system for reusing treated wastewater tested on a real-life scale


Climate change: what impact will it have on the Seine river basin?

Flood risk and post-flood adaptation

A guide to managing leaks in drinking water systems

Conflicts of use : a methodological kit on catchment-area management


Water flows under control

Irstea has patented a tensiometer which can measure the water content of the soil and notably enhance irrigation management.

Soil water tension provides valuable information for managing the irrigation of agricultural land, gardens, sports fields and green spaces. It is obtained using a tensiometer measuring an electrical parameter in a cell of material creating a balance with the soil.
To mitigate the limitations of the existing devices (limited operational range of 1 or 2 bars, inaccurate measurements or drifting over time), Irstea researchers, in cooperation with CNRS LTHE , have created the measuring cell in a synthetic porous material with an aerated concrete base. This component, stable over time, offers good accuracy of measurement, including over 5 bars, and is adaptable to different types of substrata. Another advantage of tensiometric measurements is that they enable the direction of the flows in the soil to be identified and thereby lend themselves to applications other than irrigation, such as assessing the risk of leakage of effluents or monitoring waste storage sites.
Currently in development as a prototype, this innovation has been transferred to a company specialising in scientific equipment for soil and water.

Check the registered patent


Technological paltform

Irrigation drop by drop
Situated in Montpellier, the PReSTI platform offers a unique framework for innovation in the field of irrigation

By combining its laboratory research on equipment and its in-field study plots in one place, Irstea is equipped with a system that is unique in the world, dedicated to the problems of irrigation at the in-field study level. From developing equipment to testing under real conditions and including guidance on input of water and fertilizers, all the work conducted on the PReSTI platform (research and experimentation platform in irrigation science and technology) has the same aim. The platform also focuses on industry: its installations enable builders to test the compliance of the performances of their equipment and can also be used in applied research partnerships. Lastly, joint research is envisaged with Reducpol, the Irstea platform which specializes in the study of spraying techniques of phytosanitary products, which has been established on the same site.