EGU22-4054, updated on 27 Mar 2022
EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Hydro-agro-economic Optimization of Water and Land Management in the Hetao Irrigation District, China

Zhaodan Cao1,2 and Tingju Zhu1,3
Zhaodan Cao and Tingju Zhu
  • 1ZJU-UIUC Institute, International Campus, Zhejiang University, Haining, China
  • 2College of Civil Engineering and Architecture, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China
  • 3Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

Water shortage and soil salinization are main limiting factors in agricultural production in arid and semi-arid regions worldwide. Located in western Inner Mongolia of China, the Hetao Irrigation District (HID) is the largest gravity-fed irrigation district in Asia and one of the top three largest irrigation districts in China. Irrigation water overuse and high level of soil salinity are the main challenges that curb agricultural productivity, adversely affect farmers’ revenues, and threaten long-term sustainability of irrigated farming in the HID. Nevertheless, irrigation water allocation, salt leaching and accumulation, crop productivity and farming decisions are intrinsically connected and thus necessitate taking a holistic approach to investigate into the interactions among all those factors and devising appropriate technological, management and policy interventions. Towards this goal, an integrated hydro-agro--economic optimization model was developed to optimize water allocation among sub-irrigation districts, across stable and cash crops, and in the four irrigation events of a year that are unique for the HID. The model optimizes net revenue of the HID considering water and salt balance, the response of crops to salinity and water stress, land availability, and existing irrigation management practices that have been proved effective. The Positive Mathematical Programming (PMP) approach is used to calibrate the model such that it can reproduce base year observations of crop acreage, water uses and production costs and benefits, making the model suitable for evaluating alternative management and policy scenarios. Sensitivity analysis were conducted for initial groundwater table, initial soil salinity level and leaching coefficient, and the results were moderately sensitive to initial soil salinity and marginally sensitive to groundwater table and leaching coefficient values. Scenario analyses were conducted to analyze the effects of irrigation water supply, winter irrigation (non-growing period) water application, irrigation efficiency and crop commodity market prices. We found that water supply reduction increases land fallow and reduces net revenue. Winter irrigation can store soil moisture to increase summer crop planting areas and increase salt-leaching to lower crop salinity stress. However, irrigation water use efficiency improvement can cause unintended negative consequences, such as exacerbated soil salinization. Higher crop commodity market price increases planting areas and water allocation of the crop but reduce areas and water uses of other crops, leading to a “crowding-out” effects. These results and modeling exercises provide a holistic perspective and useful insights for future water, land and salinity management, irrigation infrastructure investment, and market risk management in the HID.

How to cite: Cao, Z. and Zhu, T.: Hydro-agro-economic Optimization of Water and Land Management in the Hetao Irrigation District, China, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-4054,, 2022.