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Irrigation development policies in China

Li Daixin1

1. Opportunities and challenges

Ample fresh water resources are an essential condition for socio-economic development and an important factor in realizing sustainable development. In China, the relationship between water and socio-economic development has become an important topic.

Factors such as growing population, intensive crop use, changing climate and diminishing water resources demand irrigation development to conserve water supplies. Throughout Chinese history, irrigation has had an important role in sustaining socio-economic development. Since the founding of New China, the Chinese Government has attached great importance to irrigation development; for the past five decades, the irrigated arable area in China has increased from 15 million to 56 million ha. Each year, the grain yield from irrigated areas accounts for 75 percent of the nation's total grain production. Moreover the irrigated area only accounts for 45 percent of the total planted area, with economic crops accounting for over 90 percent of the total output. Although cropped area per capita in China only accounts for 30 percent of that in the rest of the world, our irrigation rate for cropping is three times that of the world average and our irrigated area per capita is also on par with the world average. With only 6 percent of the world's total renewable water resources and 9 percent of the world's total arable land area, China has successfully solved the problem of providing adequate food and clothing for its population of 1.3 billion (accounting for 22 percent of the world's total population); this is a significant achievement and the contribution by irrigated agriculture should not be neglected.

With the further increases in population, rapid economic development and accelerated urbanization, irrigation in China is confronted by many positive development opportunities and numerous challenges.

1.1 The opportunities

  1. The central government has devised strategies for building an affluent society in a holistic manner and building New Social Villages. This calls for expediting the development of irrigation to increase agricultural production and farmers' incomes as well as to enhance rural socio-economic development.
  2. The need to guarantee national grain safety calls for accelerating the development of irrigation and drainage; this will further enhance comprehensive grain throughput.
  3. Irrigation for water conservancy is now a commonly understood concept by society in general.

Sustainable economic development in China and increased financial capacity have laid a solid foundation for urban–rural assistance, agricultural development and building a multiple investment mechanism for irrigation.

1.2 The challenges

  1. Water deficits for agricultural irrigation in China annually amount to over 30 billion m3; at the same time, lower water use efficiency results in excessive waste of water resources.
  2. As it is difficult to increase the amount of available water, industrial and urban areas are tapping water supplies intended for irrigation. To increase water reserves for agricultural irrigation, we need to urgently develop water-saving irrigation techniques.
  3. Pollution of water resources has not yet been brought under effective control; while developing irrigation techniques, we must pay greater attention to environmental protection.

1 Director-General, Department of Irrigation, Drainage and Rural Water Supply, Ministry of Water Resources, China.

2. Current policies on irrigation development in China

Government leadership for irrigation development needs to be strengthened. China's Law on Water stipulates clearly that the government at various levels should consolidate leadership for irrigation work and promote the development of agricultural production. Farmland irrigation and drainage are important components of water-saving infrastructure (WSI); the government, at various levels, should strengthen WSI by drawing up specific targets and adopting strict measures.

The guidelines of the 11th Five-year Plan for National Economic and Social Development list construction activities for large-scale irrigation areas and water-harvesting facilities as one of the key programmes for building New Social Villages. This will require a greater focus on increased agricultural fixed assets' investment as recorded in 2005 and 2006 by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the State Council.

The Medium- and Long-term Programme for National Grain Safety of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) considers the construction of WSI as a key programme for guaranteeing national grain safety. Recent key planning by the Ministry of Water Resources endorsed the upscaling of rehabilitation and follow-up construction of existing large-scale irrigation areas and water-harvesting facilities to further improve a guaranteed irrigation rate and grain output. Also, to further enlarge irrigation areas in regions where there are good natural water supplies and soil resources and to exploit these reserves for grain production.

In the context of promoting water conservancy for agriculture and constructing related infrastructure to meet socio-economic needs, the Third Plenary Session of the Fifteenth CPC Central Committee noted the need to formulate policies for promoting water conservancy, to develop water-harvesting agricultural practices and to undertake the promotion of water-harvesting irrigation as well as to enlarge the effective irrigation area. China's Law on Water clearly stipulates: (i) Strict economy in the use of water, (ii) measures for economical water use, (iii) dissemination of new technologies for economical water use and (iv) the development of a water-saving society.

While developing WSI techniques and expediting WSI, we must attach importance to the system's framework. First, a management system for the control and allocation of irrigation water needs to be established. According to available water resources in irrigation areas and trends in local socio-economic development, water must be distributed scientifically and rationally; the control index for irrigation water volume must be fixed. Water allocation and supply plans — according to crop water requirements and water management requirements — need to be devised. According to Article 47 of China's Water Law, the state controls national water resources and their allocation.

Second, it is essential to conduct the transfer of agricultural irrigation water rights. There is a need to conduct research on water rights and distribution mechanisms and to progressively establish market mechanisms for water rights transfer. Saved water can be transferred to other industries in a compensatory manner and water users can be taught how to use water economically and effectively in order to improve water use efficiency. Further, there is a need to promote the establishment of multiple investment mechanisms for WSI.

Third, it necessary to fine-tune the compensation mechanism for using irrigation water and irrigation facilities. Water for agriculture and associated water facilities that are exploited by industry and cities should be protected in order to respect farmers' legal water rights.

To promote agricultural water conservancy calls for the creation of an equitable water-price mechanism that addresses compensation costs, reasonable income, economical use of water and fair allocation. At the same time, water fee collection and management mechanisms should be finalized and the usage of water fees should be transparent. China's Water Law stipulates clearly that anyone who uses water provided by a water-supply project shall pay a water fee to the supplying unit in accordance with the relevant provisions. The law also contains the condition to measure the amount of water used and to use it according to the approved water use plan and to collect water fees through measurement and staged prices for the use of water. In recent years, the central government has promoted a number of policies to enforce water-saving activities and to promote the effective and economical use of water resources.

Irrigation is closely related to the environment. In inland river basins with fragile ecosystems and degraded water resources, it is necessary to further strengthen integrated water resource management in large river catchments; the development of new irrigation areas should be strictly controlled in order to protect natural water reserves. In groundwater-deficient areas (especially in North China) the exploitation of groundwater should be strictly controlled.

To develop water-harvesting irrigation calls for scientific and rational plans. According to agricultural requirements and socio-economic development in rural areas there is a need to devise an irrigation plan. The formulation of the plan should be based on the carrying capacity of water and soil resources, paying particular attention to the economy, allocation and protection of water resources. At the same time, key points should be emphasized: Priorities should be given to major grain-producing regions, regions suffering from severe water shortage, regions with fragile environments and relatively depressed areas. In recent years, the Ministry of Water Resources has promulgated a series of policies in this regard.

With respect to water-harvesting irrigation, a guaranteed mechanism for steady increase of investment is warranted. The central government and local governments at various levels should actively guarantee funding inputs, ensure the steady increase of inputs for irrigation facilities and strengthen standardized, systemized and scientific management of projects. Simultaneously an evaluation system should be fine-tuned in order to guarantee the standardized and orderly implementation of projects and to enhance investment benefits.

The development of water-harvesting irrigation relies on scientific and technological progress, which can enhance irrigation supply. An innovative science-oriented network should comprise government-supported enterprises that manufacture water-harvesting materials/equipment as well as scientific research units, universities and polytechnic institutes. It should be a network that cooperates with water-producing units and water consumers. The network should introduce advanced water-harvesting irrigation technologies from overseas and develop new water-harvesting irrigation technologies that are adaptable to our national situation. Other tasks are to promote the popularization of grassroots technology and to continuously improve the level of irrigation modernization. In this context, the Outline for water conservation technologies and policies in China was published jointly by the National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Construction and Ministry of Agriculture.

After the 1998 flood disaster in the Yangtze Basin, the Ministry of Water Resources demanded a focus on reform with regard to water conservancy and management systems as well as the heightening of water use efficiency. The implementation of "Two Reforms and One Heightening" has optimized the allocation of water resources, enhanced agricultural production, increased farmers' income, fostered the management of irrigation districts and improved the condition of natural environments. Comprehensive achievements have been made in terms of socio-economic and ecological aspects.

With respect to the reconstruction of WSI, project management needs to study and prepare relevant regulations for projects to follow. This will reduce random implementation and intensify standardized, systematic and scientific management. For project organization, priorities should target irrigation areas afflicted by severe water shortages and areas with notable supply and demand anomalies.

In the context of funding, special accounts and concomitant account management procedures are warranted (declaration, examination, verification and approval). Arbitrary payments, stockpiling or embezzlement funds will be punished. The construction phase should strictly adhere to regulations governing terms of reference for project staff, tender invitations, bidding systems, construction supervision and contract management to guarantee quality. Moreover efforts should be made to introduce new technologies, materials and techniques. The state has prepared a number of important policies to address all of these issues.

The main thrust of irrigation reform is to energetically advance management and operational reform with a focus on developing WUAs). According the Ministry of Water Resources, local conditions should be analysed carefully for the development of WUAs, which should not automatically adopt a single mode. Local governments must strengthen guidance and support for WUAs and devolve management to them. Farmers should realize that success lies in voluntary contributions and subsequent mutual benefit.

Each irrigation area should be strict in fixing the number of staff and the number of engineering posts in water conservancy management units. Management and maintenance of completed projects must be supervised carefully. Employees should be encouraged to continuously improve management efficiency and strive to lower management costs.

The development of irrigation areas calls for an ideal evaluation system that comprehensively determines local outputs, experiences and problems related to the infrastructure. This will enable the preparation of appropriate countermeasures and suggestions to ensure orderly and standardized implementation of the project and raise the investment profile.

Development and modernization of irrigation schemes in China

Zhanyi Gao1

1. Introduction

Located in the Asian monsoon region, most of China experiences uneven distribution of precipitation. Consequently, drought and waterlogging occur frequently. China has a long history of irrigation, dating back more than 4 000 years. The famous Dujiangyan Project was built 2 250 years ago and it still functions today as the second largest irrigation district in terms of total irrigated area. Agricultural production and Chinese civilization have depended heavily on the development of irrigation practices.

In China, irrigation has matured beside socio-economic development and technological progress. Irrigation schemes have played an important role in increasing crop yields, securing food safety, supplying drinking water to rural areas, generating job opportunities, increasing farmers' income and ameliorating poverty. However, owing to rapid socio-economic development and climate change, water shortages and environmental degradation are becoming increasingly serious, thus challenging the sustainable development of irrigation. The irrigation sector is still the largest water user although the proportion of water supply it receives is declining. It is a key area for modernization — via new concepts and technology — in order to increase water use efficiency and agricultural productivity. During the last ten years, 306 large irrigation schemes in China have been upgraded but it will take a long time to compete the task.

2. Irrigation development review

In 1949 the total irrigated area in China was 15.9 million ha. Since then irrigation has expanded very quickly and this expansion can be divided into three stages (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Expansion of the irrigation area in China since 1949

1949 to 1980: The focus was on the construction of reservoirs, water diversion projects, large and medium irrigation districts and tubewells. The irrigated area increased from 15.93 million ha in 1949 to 48.89 million ha in 1980 with an average annual increase of 1.06 million ha.

1981 to 1990: Institutional reform in rural areas was implemented, agricultural institutions and input mechanisms were restructured, state investment and labour input for development and maintenance of irrigation

1 China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research Beijing 100044, P.O. Box 366, China.

projects were reduced. Meanwhile, more irrigation water was diverted for rising industrial and domestic use. As a result, the irrigated area declined from 48.89 million ha in 1980 to 48.39 million ha in 1990; the average annual rate of decline was 50 000 ha. During this stage the focus shifted from construction to management.

1991 to present: The focus has been on developing water-saving irrigation, improving irrigation management, reforming management institutions and rehabilitating large irrigation projects. State investment for the irrigation sector has increased. As a result, the irrigated area expanded from 48.39 million ha in 1990 to 56.53 million ha in 2005 with an average annual increase of 690 000 ha.

By 2005, there were 402 large irrigation schemes each with an irrigated area exceeding 20 000 ha. The total irrigated area serviced by the large irrigation schemes amounted to 16.3 million ha, accounting for 29 percent of the total irrigated area in China. The large irrigation schemes produced 22 percent of total grain production and 33 percent of the total agricultural output from only 12.8 percent of the total farmland in China.

3. Irrigation scheme modernization

In China most irrigation schemes were built from the 1950s to 1970s. Due to the lack of technology and funding, the design standard was low and the irrigation systems remained incomplete. Furthermore, after 30 to 40 years of operation, weaknesses have developed in canals and infrastructure. Water shortage, water pollution and climate change have exacerbated the problem.

In 1991 the Ministry of Water Resources evaluated the condition of irrigation schemes in China. The major findings were:

From 1998 to 2005, 18.9 billion yuan was allocated to upgrade intake structures, canal systems and control facilities in 306 large irrigation schemes with a focus on solving "bottleneck" problems. In recent years modernization of irrigation system management has been piloted in 30 irrigation schemes by adopting modern technologies.

In 2005 the Ministry of Water Resources organized a mid-term assessment of the modernization of 255 large irrigation schemes. The results showed that from 1998 to 2004, 12 784 km of canals had been lined and
39 583 structures had been re-inforced or built. The safety of the irrigation schemes had improved, water conveyance duration and irrigation intervals had been shortened and water losses had been reduced. After the modernization was complete, 646 000 ha of irrigated area were recovered, 3.31 million ha of irrigated farmland were improved and grain production was increased by 5.82 million tonnes. Total agricultural output in the project area increased by 46.1 percent and net income per capita increased by 43.8 percent. Management staff declined from 5.68 to 4.12 persons per 10 000 ha of irrigated area (reduced by 25.7 percent).The irrigated area managed by water users' associations (WUAs) increased from 9.1 to 36 percent of the total irrigated area. Average annual losses induced by natural disaster declined by 3.2 billion yuan in the 255 irrigation schemes. Losses induced by accident were reduced by half in 67.8 percent of the assessed irrigation schemes. The modernization of irrigation schemes facilitated the introduction of new cropping patterns, increased farmers' income, returned more water to ecosystems and improved the ecological condition of the rural area.

4. Discussion on irrigation scheme modernization

As a key project, the modernization of large irrigation schemes has been included in 11th Five-year Plan. During the planning period the development of water-saving irrigation has been further highlighted and modernization of irrigation schemes has been listed in key areas for investment allocation.

The purpose of such modernization is to improve service to water users, including improvement of water measurement and control; increase water supply; improve water use efficiency and productivity; and realize socio-economic benefits.

The modernization of irrigation schemes is part of socio-economic development and can be tracked historically. It is part of the transition from a traditional to a modern society:

If the major socio-economic objective of the initial modernization was to enhance economic development, then the major objective of the second modernization was to improve quality of life. If the initial modernization plundered nature, then the second modernization addressed conservation and rehabilitation.

In developed countries, the initial modernization is already history and the second modernization is underway. Developing countries are confronted by both scenarios.

The characteristics of both scenarios should be reflected in the modernization of irrigation schemes. The modernization of irrigation schemes not only includes application of new materials, new technology and new techniques for upgrading and constructing irrigation systems, but also includes adoption of modern management technologies, concepts and institutions. Democracy and legalization should be incorporated in institutional reform. Knowledge, specialization and learning should be incorporated in capacity building. Information systems, automation, computer technology and networking should be adopted to modernize irrigation system management. Empowerment, users' rights, participation and equity should be components of WUAs. The modernization of irrigation schemes should promote agricultural production, raise living standards, enhance the rural environment and develop a stable society.


Department of Rural Water, Ministry of Water Resources. 2005. Report on appraisal of modernization of large irrigation schemes. October 2005.

FAO. 2004. Improving the operation of canal irrigation systems. November 2004.

He Chuanqi. 2002. What is modernization? China Research Centre for Modernization, Chinese Academy of Science, August 2002.

Zhanyi Gao. Discussion on selection of efficient water saving technology for large irrigation schemes. China Water, December 2005.

Zhanyi Gao. 2006. Development of irrigation and its multi-function in China. Water Economy, January 2006.

Water resource management and agricultural irrigation in Shanxi Province

Pan Junfeng1

1. Background

Shanxi Province is located in the western quadrant of North China, the middle reaches of the Yellow River and the eastern edge of the Loess Plateau. The total land area is 156 000 km2, forming a long narrow parallelogram from north to south, with encompassing mountains and rivers. The geographic coordinates are 110°14'–114°33' east and 34°34'–40°43' north. The interior is complex; it can be divided into three major regions — the eastern mountains, the western plateau and the middle basin. Mountains and hills account for over 80 percent of the total area; plains are mainly distributed in the middle basin. The province governs 11 prefecture-level cities, 119 counties (cities, districts) and a total population of 33.55 million. Taiyuan is the capital city.

2. Water resources and agricultural irrigation

2.1 Water resources

The weather in Shanxi Province is characterized by a mid-latitude continental monsoon climate and average annual precipitation is 508.8 mm (annual rainfall ranges from 650 to 400 mm). The aridity index increases from 1.5 to 3 from southeast to northwest, transiting from a semi-humid to a semi-arid climate.

Medium-sized rivers in Shanxi Province include the Fen and Qin in the Yellow River Basin and the Sanggan, Hutuo and Zhang in the Haihe Basin; all rise in the interior and flow outwards. As the sole major river passing through Shanxi Province, the Yellow River flows through 968 km of provincial boundaries among Shanxi, Shaanxi and Henan Provinces. The average annual river runoff recorded at Longmen hydrological station on the Yellow River is 28 million m3.

In 2003, Shanxi's total water resources, on average, amounted to 12.38 billion m3. Water supply in 2005 was 5.9 billion m3, of which surface water accounted for 2.2 billion m3 and groundwater 3.7 billion m3 (37 and 63 percent of the total water supply respectively).

In recent years, total water usage for the whole province has increased from 5.8 billion to 6.5 billion m3 — domestic water usage in urban and rural areas totals 0.85 billion m3, industrial water usage 1.7 billion m3 and agricultural water usage 3.4 billion to 3.95 billion m3.

2.2 Agricultural irrigation

The main natural disaster for agriculture in Shanxi Province is drought. Severe drought has occurred every 2.6 years on average for the past 600 years; the frequency of general or regional drought is over 90 percent. The distribution of annual precipitation is very uneven; in winter and spring it is no more than 18 percent of the annual amount, so spring drought occurs almost every year. According to statistics, the grain output of irrigated land in Shanxi is generally one to four times higher than that of unirrigated land. The grain output of irrigated land in a common year accounts for about 60 percent of the gross grain output of the whole province; such a proportion in case of drought years would be over two-thirds. Therefore, irrigation for the agricultural development of Shanxi Province is very important.

In 2005, the effective irrigation area in the whole province reached 18.85 million mu2, accounting for 33 percent of the total cultivated area: 7.4 million mu (large- and medium-scale automatic flow irrigation);

1 Director-General, Shanxi Water Resources Department, China.
2 1 mu = 0.06 ha.

3.12 million mu (similarly sized mechano-electric irrigation); 6.88 million mu (well irrigation); and 1.45 million mu (small irrigation projects).

After many years of research and experiment, Shanxi Province has preliminarily concluded a set of water-saving irrigation measures suitable for its natural conditions. With regard to irrigation water supply, the main measure is canal seepage control and for field irrigation it is low-pressure pipe irrigation. Currently, constructed canal length with seepage control is 60 000 km, accounting for 52.4 percent of the total length of fixed canals; the seepage control rate of main canals in large irrigation regions has reached 61 percent. We have developed a low-pressure pipe irrigation area of 6.43 million mu, as well as sprinkler irrigation and micro-irrigation areas of 2.6 million mu. Average use of irrigation water in the whole province has increased from a coefficient of 0.404 in 1990 to 0.474 presently; this is at the middle or higher level for usage nationwide.

3. Constraints and challenges

3.1 Development, utilization and management of water resources

(1) The water resource situation is serious and conflict between water supply and demand is intense. Average availability of water per capita in Shanxi Province is 381 m3, about 17 percent of the national average. Since the 1970s, Shanxi has been experiencing particularly low water levels and according to the index for serious water deficit3, Shanxi has endured serious water shortages. Since 1980, in order to cope with national demand for energy, various industries in Shanxi have been developed rapidly; coal outputs, thermal power generation, chemical, steel and aluminium industries have proliferated. At the same time, domestic water usage in urban and rural regions and ecological water usage have risen quickly. Currently, the lack of water restricts the development of Shanxi and has become an important strategic issue.

(2) Regulatory and allocation capacity for water resources is low and the construction of water-related infrastructure has lagged seriously. Most of Shanxi is mountainous or hilly, so development projects are confronted by physical challenges, high costs and long construction periods. Since the late 1950s, Shanxi has constructed 730 reservoirs, with total storage capacity of 4.5 billion m3. Sixty-three large- and medium-scale reservoirs were all constructed before 1976 and siltation has reached 1.2 billion m3 after more than 30 years of operation. Because no new reservoirs have been built in recent years (only three reservoirs are now under construction), storage and capacity to control surface water has weakened (for reservoirs in the whole province this is less than one-fourth for river runoff, which is low). Because of inadequate water-related infrastructure, currently the average water supply per capita is only 180 m3, about 44 percent of the national average. In this regard, Shanxi is ranked bottom among all provinces, cities and autonomous regions in China.

(3) Groundwater overexploitation is serious. Most of the river runoff is concentrated in the three months of the flood season and a flood often lasts for only several hours; thus runoff control and storage is difficult if there are no proper facilities. Most of the rivers rise in the watershed between the eastern and western mountains and cannot unite to form a major river with abundant supply until nearing the provincial boundary. Most locations suitable for the construction of large- and medium-scale reservoirs are distributed at both wings, which constrains the supply of water to the middle basin. Therefore, river flow optimization mainly uses the Fen, Sanggan and Su Rivers in the middle basin regions; the development and use of rivers in the eastern and western wings is only 5 to 15 percent. The average annual runoff flowing out of the province from 1956 to 2000 was 7.32 billion m3, of which the Haihe River Basin accounted for 3.2 billion m3 and the Yellow River Basin 4.12 billion m3 respectively; total provincial outflow was 84.36 percent of river runoff. Even in low water periods from 1980 to 2000, provincial outflow had reached 4.8 billion m3, about 65.84 percent of river runoff; only one-third of this amount could be used.

The water supply capacity of surface water projects is limited. After 1972, in order to meet demand for economic development, groundwater exploitation increased annually from 1.1 billion m3 to nearly 4 billion m3, and groundwater became the main supply. For a certain period, the situation became chaotic —

3 UN International Population Action, 1993.

urban–rural rifts, multidepartment reviews and approvals, self-construction and self-management, open usage and uncontrolled exploitation. Annual exploitation of groundwater reached 0.7 billion m3 over a total area of 11 000 km2. Groundwater levels declined by 2 to 3 m per year on average. Most shallow groundwater layers have now dried up, and motor-pumped wells have become deeper and deeper, with corresponding physical disturbance; the depth of wells in some regions has even reached 1 000 m. The cost of irrigation for farmers is increasing too; they are barely able to afford water tariffs. Overexploitation has also generated environmental and geological problems, for example, some cities such as Taiyuan, Datong and Jinzhong have experienced land subsidence of approximately 1 100 mm.

The depth of basin groundwater has increased greatly. Consequently recharge by precipitation infiltration has been affected negatively. Thus the groundwater volume that crops and trees can utilize under natural conditions has diminished considerably; this further exacerbates adverse effects on the vulnerable ecological environment of Shanxi.

These problems are compounded by seepage of industrial wastewater and sewage which seriously pollutes river water. Most rivers in Shanxi are seasonal, so in the dry season water flow is reduced and sewage-bearing capacity is very low; river water quality is consequently poor.

(4) Coal mining has a negative influence on water resources. Coal resources in Shanxi are abundant and the province is a national energy base. Coal output in 2005 reached 0.6 billion tonnes, accounting for one-fourth of the total national output. Coal and water resources in Shanxi coexist in the same geological strata. Groundwater can be divided into three storage types: Coal formation, upper stratum covering the aquifer; coal formation, aquifer stratum; and coal formation, stratum underlying the aquifer. The first two are mainly "crack and cranny" aquifers and the latter is mainly a karst aquifer. Coal mining has resulted in cranny water discharge zones and caused dessication and leakage in the upper aquifer. Coal mining tunnels turn the coal seams into labyrinths and decompression draining during coal mining pollutes underlying karst water. What is even more destructive is surface damage: Cracks, subsidence and dessicated aquifers — water circulation via the natural chain of runoff, recharge and drainage is broken, which leads to the drying up of rivers and groundwater exhaustion.

According to expert research, on average, each tonne of coal mined in Shanxi Province will cost 2.48 m3 of water. Considering the present mining scale, over 10 percent of current water resources will be affected.

3.2 Development of irrigation

(1) Water sources for irrigation purposes have declined and the actual irrigation area has been reduced. In recent years, owing to diminished surface water sources, decline of the groundwater table, ageing of irrigation projects and inconsistent management the actual irrigation area in the whole province has shown a descending trend, from 16.3 million to 12.2 million mu. Agricultural capability to resist natural disaster has been mitigated and stable agricultural development has been affected. During the 10th Five-year Plan, the highest annual grain output in Shanxi was 10.6 billion kg and the lowest was 6.9 billion kg, a difference of 35 percent. Areas that can be irrigated according to crop water demand account for 50 percent of actual irrigation areas; most of the other locations can only be watered once or twice a year.

(2) Investment in irrigation projects is seriously inadequate and there is no water conservancy policy. At present, investment in construction and reconstruction of agricultural irrigation projects is insufficient; many projects constructed in the 1960s and 1970s have deteriorated — they evidence high leakage, and progress in renovation and water-saving reconstruction has been slow. Because there is no water conservancy policy, especially with regard to initial water rights distribution and water rights transfer, farmers have not been motivated to invest in water conservancy and only the government is active.

(3) Irrigation water charges are not in place and management is inconsistent. The agricultural irrigation water price in most irrigation districts was calculated, checked and approved in the 1990s, and the approved water price, which only accounts for 50 to 80 percent of cost, cannot sustain normal operations, let alone expansion. Because of lack of funds and poor benefits, professional technicians have left many medium and small irrigation districts so research on and promotion of advanced irrigation technologies and facilities has been seriously compromised.

4. Countermeasures to address challenges and problems

The Shanxi Provincial Committee of the CPC and the provincial government have placed considerable emphasis on problems such as exploitation, utilization, harvesting and protection of water resources. After in-depth investigations, they are adopting a series of important measures to accelerate the development of water conservancy throughout the whole province.

4.1 Firmly establish a water-saving society and effectively utilize water resources

In order to realize the target of provincial socio-economic development with extremely limited water resources, it is essential to implement strict water-saving measures and take the lead in establishing a water-saving society in China. Shanxi is planning the development of a water-saving society, which will be implemented thoughout the province after being approved by the provincal government. This development is divided into three phases: Phase 1 will preliminarily structure the system and mechanisms for a water-saving society by 2010 and build demonstration sites; this will target a decline of water usage per 10 000 yuan by 35 percent. Phase 2 will tentatively build up a water-saving society throughout the province by 2015. Phase 3 will finalize the establishment of a water-saving society by 2020.

At the core of establishing a water-saving society is framework development and establishing water use management systems that address control and allocation of total volumes. Other factors include developing water resource management systems based on water rights and water market principles, forming water-saving economic mechanisms, continuously improving use efficiency and generating resource benefits and promoting harmonized development in general.

By the end of 2008, Shanxi will have completed the distribution of initial water rights and established a water rights transfer and transaction system. Through government policy guidance and market price regulation, enthusiasm will be generated throughout society to invest in water harvesting and obtain appropriate returns; people will understand that harvesting water will yield benefits. Persons and communities who waste water and use it inefficiently will pay higher rates for their irresponsibility. In order to guarantee practical implementation of total volume control and micromanagement systems for allocation, Shanxi needs to accelerate the establishment of a monitoring and control network covering main water users. At the same time, we should promote advanced water-saving technologies through policy measures. Practice has proved that policy guidance, price regulation, mechanism promotion and science and technology are the main components for constructing a water-saving society.

4.2 Scientific development, realizing the sustainable use of water resources

When inspecting Shanxi in March 2006, Premier Wen Jiabao pointed out that (sic) "the maximal restriction factor for Shanxi Province lies in water, we should research the permanent policy to resolve long-term poorness of water resources". Vis-à-vis water resource evaluation and planning, with 17 basin areas as units, Shanxi has determined water resource carrying capacity and exploitation and utilization potential, identified future needs and evolved a water resource allocation scheme based on the characteristics of different areas. In the east and southeast where water resources are relatively rich and surface water exploitation is lower, we should strive for support from the Ministry of Water Resources and the State Development's Reform and Planning Committee to accelerate the construction of surface water control and storage projects to meet the needs of coal, thermal power and chemical industries and ensure national energy safety. For the middle basin region where water resource exploitation is higher and groundwater overexploitation and ecological problems are prominent, while adjusting industry structure to restrict the development of industries with high water usage, we will adopt measures such as water conservancy, pollution control and recycling. We will add water supply from the South Main Line of the Wanjiazhai Yellow River Diversion Project (including transport to the Fen River) and promote the construction of the North Main Line of the Yellow River Diversion Project, in an attempt to raise the water carrying capacity in this region. For external water diversion, we should arrange for certain areas to recharge overexploited groundwater to redress the natural balance; for the western loess hills and ravine regions where water exploitation and utilization are relatively worse, while controlling exploitation intensity and strengthening protection, we should encourage the excavation of wells to harvest rainfall and warp dam construction.

In the context of reservoir construction, we should determine project scale and not construct large reservoirs if medium-scale infrastructure is sufficient. Reservoir flood calculation should address the long term, while water supply calculation should address the short term, in order to avoid constructing large but unnecessary capacity. The targets of new water projects are mainly cities and industry and the guaranteed water supply rate is high (95 percent); we will advocate methods to streamline delivery and avoid extraction from a single reservoir. In reservoir planning, we will insist on moderate and rational exploitation of rivers.

4.3 Multiple investments, realizing the development of water conservancy in Shanxi Province

In order to change the passive condition of the construction of water conservancy infrastructure projects, we need to increase investment. We should completely change the original approach of simply depending on single governmental investment to finding multiple investment opportunities for the construction of water conservancy infrastructure. We should exploit the fact that the State Council is carrying out its sustainable development policy and experimentation in the coal industry to develop methods for restoring the natural environment degraded by coal mining and to resolve the problems of compensation and recovery.

4.4 Resolving ecological problems, adding scenic value to Shanxi Province

The Fen River is the mother river of Shanxi Province but the scenic value of her surrounding landscape has vanished. Objectively speaking, it is very difficult to maintain a favourable ecological environment in a province where the climate is dry, water resources are scarce and energy industries proliferate. In the North China scenario where rivers have dried up, water is polluted and water supply has drastically diminished, it is also unrealistic to expect to return the ecology to its former state in toto before the 1960s. Our proposal is to initially resolve ecological problems in major watercourses such as the Fen, Qin and Sanggan Rivers so that they can serve city perimeters. There are two core measures to restore and maintain healthy rivers: (1) treating sewage and wastewater entering rivers and (2) ensuring minimum loss of riverine assets. In June 2006, Shanxi Province began to implement the "Blue Sky and Green Water Project"; targets include restoring water quality upstream of the Fen River to potable standards, and water quality in the middle and lower river reaches to meet standards for agricultural irrigation. In September 2006, Shanxi Provincial People's Congress decided to further protect Fen, Qin and Sanggan headwaters. Currently, the provincial water conservancy department is implementing this decision with relevant departments, cities and counties.

4.5 Retaining agricultural area and effectively raising irrigation quality

It is important to develop irrigation to ensure stable agricultural development, alleviate rural poverty and enhance farmers' income in the context of developing rural areas. Our general strategy is to maintain the irrigation area in the whole province at 19 million mu, stabilize annual average water usage for agricultural irrigation at approximately 3.8 billion m3 and focus on improving irrigation water quality while stabilizing the total volume. Major tasks include:

  • Supplement the irrigation area by 3 million mu through renovation, infrastructure construction and regulation.
  • Raise the utilization coefficient of irrigation water to 0.56 via water-saving infrastructure in irrigation districts and promoting advanced water-saving irrigation technologies. Saved water will be used mainly to add to the net irrigation water volume in fields and enhance irrigation assurance.
  • For the region along the banks of the Yellow River in South Shanxi, develop 1 million mu, irrigated by diversion from the Yellow River, promote organic agriculture and high quality fruit bases and replenish overexploited groundwater in the Yuncheng Basin.
  • In the Loess Plateau, develop 0.4 million mu via rainfall harvesting, construct 10 000 silting dams and add 0.5 million mu of irrigated area to help restore 2.5 million mu of cultivated sloping land.

4.6 Deepen reform and extend the development model of the Jiamakou Irrigation Scheme

To increase agricultural output, enhance farmers' income and facilitate operations under market economy conditions, Jiamakou Yellow River Diversion Administrative Bureau of Shanxi Province has deepened reform of the management system and devised the following approaches:

  • Marketing of water supply management and implementing a contract system for water supply, with "water tickets" as the main component.
  • Disseminating information on water supply management and establishing an irrigation information network system (from the administrative bureau to farmers) to enhance the transparency of water supply procedures.
  • Instituting democracy in irrigation scheme management; establishing WUAs and a canal distribution management committee to carry out democratic management and supervision.
  • Automation of project management; adopting advanced management methods and engineering measures to keep water sources stable and improve irrigation efficiency.

4.7 Research and extension on advanced irrigation technologies

Climate, terrain, soil and irrigation conditions in Shanxi Province are diverse so it is necessary to learn and acquire advanced irrigation technologies from abroad and combine them with indigenous practices for the modernization of irrigation. Since 2002, in this regard, Shanxi Province has carried out a number of projects in Jinzhong City and provided reference and highly effective water-use models for similar locations. Taiyuan City has acquired considerable experience on water rights distribution, water use allocation management and computation as well as monitoring for agricultural irrigation.

Currently, we are in the key phase of assessing water resources throughout the province and evolving policies and countermeasures. Hence, we are probing experts for advice to promote water resource management and irrigation modernization in Shanxi.

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