Population growth and economic development, coupled with water pollution and the frequent occurrence of extreme weather, have led to a growing contradiction between water supply and demand in some regions. To address this challenge, rational and optimal allocation of regional water resources has emerged as a crucial approach. This study focuses on creating a comprehensive model for optimizing regional water resource allocation, taking into account social, economic, and ecological factors. In addition, three innovative modifications are introduced to the firefly algorithm (FA), resulting in the development of the improved firefly algorithm (IFA). The effectiveness of IFA is validated through experiments involving nine benchmark functions. The results highlight the improved search efficiency and convergence achieved by IFA compared to other intelligent algorithms. Moreover, the application of IFA in solving the water resource allocation challenge in Shannxi Province, China, for 2020 and 2021 demonstrates a reduction in the overall water shortage rate to 4.69 and 1.72%, at a 75% guarantee rate. This reduction in water shortages contributes to addressing future scarcities. The proposed allocation scheme offers comprehensive benefits and provides crucial technical support for water resource management. Ultimately, this study offers valuable insights and guidance for addressing the issue of water supply–demand disparities.

  • A multi-objective water resources allocation model that takes into social, economic, and ecological is proposed.

  • Three improvement spots are introduced to the benchmark firefly algorithm.

  • The improved firefly optimization algorithm has better convergence efficiency and fitness values.

  • The proposed optimization scheme has superior comprehensive benefits and reduces the water shortage rate.

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