in: Agricultural Water Management 119 (March), 10-18
The paper analyzes village-level irrigation management in water scarce northern China in which farmers’ livelihood is highly dependent on the appropriation of water due to limited livelihood alternatives and demographic structure with the elderly as the majority. Most scholarly works have focus on the organizational dimension of irrigation systems in China, while empirical researches relating to irrigation management so far have not paid enough attention to its institutional arrangements. We examine two cases studies – one with both surface and groundwater irrigation, and the other only with groundwater irrigation – to explore how sets of rules, physical attributes of irrigation systems, and social characteristics of communities jointly shape village-level irrigation management. Institutions of Sustainability framework is employed to facilitate the institutional analysis, through which we further discuss the emergency of self-organizing behaviors and origination of specific irrigation forms. We draw the conclusion that the organization of irrigation should fit not only the physical environment but also the institutional context and there is no one-for-all solution for governing irrigation in the field. In addition, we highlight the importance of the participation of locals in irrigation management as the research indicates the capability of locals to organize them for better use of natural resources on which their livelihoods are highly dependent. Finally, we suggest that irrigation management could be improved in future by introducing water users associations into surface irrigation management and devolving this management directly to water users along with participatory land planning.