Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 73, Issue 2, pp 815–834 | Cite as

Development scenarios on Hetao irrigation area (China): a qualitative analysis from social, economic and ecological perspectives

  • Lilin Kerschbaumer
  • Jan Felix Köbbing
  • Konrad Ott
  • Stefan Zerbe
  • Niels Thevs
Thematic Issue


Lakes are threatened ecosystems in drylands of Central Asia. The Wuliangsuhai Lake (“W-Lake”) is a case in point. Located in the Hetao Irrigation Area (“HIA”), W-Lake is a rare multifunctional inland lake in arid North China. It provides a wide range of ecosystem services, including provision of products, regulation of water and climate, water purification, biodiversity conservation and cultural services. The lake’s major water input is the drainage water from HIA’s farmlands. Those farmlands divert water directly from the Yellow River for irrigation. Unsustainable agricultural practice in HIA has gravely impacted on W-Lake in terms of reduced water quantity and degraded water quality. However, the linkage between agricultural practice in HIA and the environmental changes of W-Lake has been rarely investigated. Existing data focus mainly either on W-Lake or on HIA’s farmlands with overwhelmingly technical and end-of-the-pipe solutions. In view of the above, this paper develops four qualitative scenarios on HIA from social, economic and ecological perspectives. The four scenarios are: (a) green growth; (b) strong sustainability; (c) shift to swamp; and (d) worst case. The main aims of this paper are (1) to assist local decision makers of HIA in policy-making and (2) to develop concepts and strategies within the larger framework of integrated water management that shall inspire conservation efforts in other Central Asian regions.


Lake conservation Freshwater sustainability Wuliangsuhai Hetao irrigation area China Development scenarios 



Hetao irrigation area


Wuliangsuhai Lake


Total nitrogen


Total phosphorus

W-Lake Plan

Wuliangsuhai comprehensive treatment plan


Billion cubic meters


Water user association


Non-governmental organisation


Yellow River Conservancy Commission


Giga-Joule (109 Joule)





We thank the Kurt Eberhard Bode Foundation within the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft for funding the Project “Sustainable Water Management and Wetland Restoration in Settlements of Continental-Arid Central Asia” (SuWaRest), within which this study was undertaken. Our special thanks go to Giuseppe Tommaso Cirella (University of Bozen-Bolzano) for linguistic improvement and Lorenzo Brusetti and Luigimaria Burruso (University of Bozen-Bolzano) for valuable comments to the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lilin Kerschbaumer
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jan Felix Köbbing
    • 2
  • Konrad Ott
    • 1
  • Stefan Zerbe
    • 3
  • Niels Thevs
    • 2
  1. 1.Philosophisches SeminarUniversity of KielKielGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Botany and Landscape EcologyUniversity of GreifswaldGreifswaldGermany
  3. 3.Faculty of Science and TechnologyFree University of Bozen-BolzanoSouth TyrolItaly

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