The Hetao irrigation area, which is one of the three largest of its kind in the country, has seen a sharp drop in the consumption of water from the Yellow River, but a significant rise in grain output over the past 30-plus years.
Grain output in the area around Bayannuur, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, rose to more than 2.9 million metric tons last year, compared with 875,000 tons in 1987, according to the local water resources department.
In stark contrast, however, the amount of water diverted to the area from the Yellow River for irrigation purposes has fallen from 5.2 billion cubic meters in 1990 to roughly 3.8 billion cu m last year, it added.
The department said the improvements were the result of local authorities striving to promote high-efficiency, water-saving agriculture and improve the management of water allocation.
For example, consistent efforts have been made to promote drip irrigation, such as an intelligent demonstration zone for pepper planting that was put into operation in May last year at Jinbu village in Bayannuur's Linhe district.
An automatic drip irrigation system has been applied in the zone, which covers more than 20 hectares, said Chen Maowei, Party chief of Jinbu.
When the relative water content in the soil falls below 70 percent, the system automatically opens the valves for drip irrigation, and when the content reaches the required level, all the valves are closed automatically, he said. Water from the Yellow River enters settling ponds before it is diverted into intelligent water-and-fertilizer-integrated machines, he added. "The entire process is automatic," he said. The local water resources department said that the local government invested more than 5 million yuan ($687,660) last year to build five pilot zones aimed at boosting the use of new drip irrigation technologies.
The use of irrigation water and fertilizers fell by 30 percent across the 1,000 hectares of farmland covered by the pilot program, while the use of pesticides fell by 20 percent, the department added.
It said the Bayannuur government has collected almost 89 million yuan in funds to build seven more pilot zones this year, which will cover more than 4,000 hectares of farmland in total.
In a move to strengthen irrigation management in their almost 1,267 hectares of combined farmland, the villages of Dongdi and Xindi in Dengkou county jointly launched an irrigation cooperative in April.
In addition to introducing drip technology, the cooperative persuaded farmers to plant the same crop on several large plots of contiguous farmland, meaning that the land can be irrigated in a concentrated manner, said Fan Jilong, a Dongdi resident who works for the cooperative.
Chen Xiaojun, the cooperative's director general, said it has made great progress in saving water since its launch. On average, 1,500 cu m of water have been saved during the irrigation of each hectare of farmland.
The water resources department said the volume of irrigation water diverted from the Yellow River to the Hetao irrigation area will be further reduced after the completion of a project that started in 2021.
As a key part of the project, the bottoms of more than 455 kilometers of water channels will be paved to help reduce leakage, it said, adding that the total investment in the project is more than 1.8 billion yuan, and it will help to save 148 million cu m of water every year.