Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 73, Issue 9, pp 5269–5279 | Cite as

Water allocation and water consumption of irrigation agriculture and natural vegetation in the Heihe River watershed, NW China

Original Article


To implement effective water resource management strategies, a sufficient data basis about the hydrologic situation must be available. An important parameter is the water consumption by the natural environment, e.g., evapotranspiration (ET). This study delivers actual evapotranspiration rates (ETa) computed on the basis of Landsat TM/ETM+ and MODIS data. Vegetation mappings recorded during a field work campaign in 2012 allowed the correlation of ET rates to certain units of vegetation. The study site is located in the Heihe river basin, Northwest China, where the landscape is characterized by extending land under cultivation along the middle reaches and ecologically valuable Tugai vegetation further downwards. Due to the arid climate, all agriculture depends on irrigation with water taken from the Heihe River. As a result of a massive expansion of irrigated land in the last decades, an imbalance with regard to water allocation has developed. It is characterized by an overexploitation of the water resources in the middle reaches and a strong degeneration of the natural Tugai vegetation along the lower reaches due to water shortage. As a response, a water distribution plan has been adopted to define target amounts of water that shall reach the lower parts of the river. Total values of the ETa over the whole vegetation period for corn, dates, orchards and grapes amount to 667.7, 762.2, 703.5 and 483.9 mm, respectively. For forest vegetation (ground coverage 80 %) and for shrub vegetation (80–100 % ground coverage), values of 496–530 mm and 177–233 mm were calculated, respectively. Areas with lower ground coverage show significantly lower ETa values. Spatially, ETa values decrease from the center towards the border of the oasis and from the middle towards the lower reaches. Agricultural land presents the largest water consumer. The total ETa values over the vegetation period amount to 2.15 km3 (middle reaches) and 0.28 km3 (lower reaches), respectively. On this basis, a minimum discharge of 0.34 km3 was calculated to maintain the natural vegetation downstream.


Evapotranspiration Remote sensing Water resource management Tugai vegetation 



We thank the Kurt-Eberhard-Bode-Foundation within the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft for funding this research within the Research Project Sustainable water management and wetland restoration in settlements of continental-arid Central Asia. Furthermore, we thank the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for funding the field work stay of Henrike Hochmuth in China.


  1. Agriculture Administration Zhangye (2012) Personal contact during field work campaignGoogle Scholar
  2. Allen RG, Pereira LS, Raes D, Smith M (1998) FAO irrigation and drainage paper No. 56. Crop Evapotranspiration. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United NationsGoogle Scholar
  3. Allen RG, Tasumi M, Morse A, Trezza R (2005) A Landsat-based energy balance and evapotranspiration model in Western US water rights regulation and planning. Irrig Drain Syst 19:251–268Google Scholar
  4. Allen R, Tasumi M, Trezza R, Robison C, Garcia M, Toll D, Arsenault K, Hendrickx J, Kjaersgaard J (2008) Comparison of evapotranspiration images derived from MODIS and landsat along the Middle Rio Grande. World Environmental and Water Resources Congress, pp 1–13Google Scholar
  5. Bastiaanssen WGM (1995) Regionalization of surface flux densities and moisture indicators in composite terrain: A remote sensing approach under clear skies in Mediterranean climates. Ph.D. dissertation. CIP Data Koninklijke Bibliothek, Den Haag, the Netherlands, p 273Google Scholar
  6. Bastiaanssen WGM, Menenti M, Feddes RA, Holtslag AAM (1998) A remote sensing surface energy balance algorithm for land (SEBAL)—1 formulation. J Hydrol 212–213:198–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bastiaanssen WGM, Molden DJ, Makin IW (2000) Remote sensing for irrigated agriculture: examples from research and possible applications. Agric Water Manag 46:137–155Google Scholar
  8. Bastiaanssen WGM, Ahmad M, Yuan CM (2002) Satellite surveillance of evaporative depletion across the Indus Basin. Water Resource Res 38:1273–1282Google Scholar
  9. Bastiaanssen WGM, Noordman EJM, Pelgrum H, Davids G, Thoreson BP, Allen RG (2005) SEBAL model with remotely sensed data to improve water-resources management under actual field conditions. ASCE J Irrig Drain E. 131:85–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Braun-Blanquet J (1964) Pflanzensoziologie: Grundzüge der Vegetationskunde. Springer, WienGoogle Scholar
  11. Carr MKV (2012) The water relations and irrigation requirements of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.): a review. Exp Agric 49(1):91–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chen DJ, Xu ZM, Chen RS (2003) Design of resources accounts: a case of integrated environmental and economic accounting. Adv Water Sci 14(5):631–637Google Scholar
  13. Compaoré H, Hendrickx JMH, Hong SH, Friesen J, Van de Giesen NC, Rodgers C, Szarzynski J, Vlek PLG (2007) Evaporation mapping at two scales using optical imagery in the White Volta Basin, Upper East Ghana. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, Parts A/B/CGoogle Scholar
  14. Conrad C, Dech SW, Hafeez M, Lamers JPA, Martius C, Strunz G (2007) Mapping and assessing water use in a Central Asian irrigation system by utilizing MO­DIS remote sensing products. Irrig Drain Syst. doi: 10.1007/s10795-007-9029-z
  15. Ding R, Kang S, Li F, Zhang Y, Tong L (2013) Evapotranspiration measurement and estimation using modified Priestley-Taylor model in an irrigated maize field with mulching. Agric For Meteorol 168:140–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dos Santos CAC, Bezerra BG, Da Silva BB, Rao TVR (2010) Assessment of daily actual Evapotranspiration with SEBAL and S-SEBI algorithms in cotton crop. Rev Brasileira de Meteorol 25:383–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ejina Qizhe (1998) Ejina Qizhe (Description of Ejina County). Fangzhe Chubanshe, BeijingGoogle Scholar
  18. Engman ET, Gurney RJ (1991) Remote sensing in hydrology. Chapman and Hall, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Environmental Protection Administration Zhangye (2012) Personal contact during field work campaignGoogle Scholar
  20. Feng Q, Cheng GD (1998) Current situation, problem and rational utilisation of water resources in Gansu Province. Chinese J Arid Land Res 11:293–299Google Scholar
  21. Gansu Provincial Bureau of Water Resources (GPBWR) (2003) Gansu water resource official report of 2002. China Water Power Press, Beijing. (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  22. Glantz MH (2005) Water, climate, and development issues in the Amu Darya Basin. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Chang 10:1573–1596. doi: 10.1007/s11027-005-7829-8
  23. Gowda PH, Chavez JL, Colaizzi PD, Evett SR, Howell TA, Tolk JA (2007) Remote sensing based energy balance algorithms for mapping ET: current status and future challenges. Am Soc Agric Biol Eng 50:1639–1644Google Scholar
  24. Gowda PH, Chavez JL, Colaizzi PD, Evett SR, Howell TA, Tolk JA (2008) ET mapping for agricultural water management: present status and challenges. Irrig Sci 26:223–237Google Scholar
  25. GRASS GIS 7 (2012) GRASS-Addons: i.evapo.potrad. http://trac.osgeo.org/grass/browser/grass-addons/grass7/imagery/i.evapo.potrad. Accessed 20 September 2012
  26. Gruschke A (1991) Neulanderschließung in Trockengebieten der Volksrepublik China. Institut für Asienkunde, HamburgGoogle Scholar
  27. Guo Q, Feng Q, Li J (2009) Environmental changes after ecological water conveyance in the lower reaches of the Heihe River, northwest China. Environ Geol 58:1387–1396CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Guo Q, Yang Y, Li J, Chen Z (2011) Ecological water requirements for vegetations in Ejina Oasis. J Arid Land Res Environ 25(5) (In Chinese with abstract in English)Google Scholar
  29. Hong SH, Hendrickx JMH, Borchers B (2005) Effect of scaling transfer between evapotranspiration maps derived from LandSat 7 and MODIS images. Pro SPIE Int Soc Opt Eng 5811:147–158Google Scholar
  30. Hou LG, Xiao JH, Si JH, Xiao SC, Zhou MX, Yang YG (2010) Evapotranspiration and crop coefficient of Populus euphratica Oliv forest during the growing season in the extreme arid region northwest China. Agric Water Manag 97:351–356CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Howell TA, Tolk JA, Schneider AD, Evett SR (1998) Evapotranspiration, yield, and water use efficiency of corn hybrids differing in maturity. Agron J 90:3–9. doi: 10.2134/agronj1998.00021962009000010002x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jia Y, Zhao C, Niu B, Zhou L (2012) Estimation of vegetation ecological water requirement using remote sensing in the groundwater belt in lower reaches of Heihe River, Northwest China. In: International symposium on geomatics for integrated water resources management, pp 1–4Google Scholar
  33. Jiang X, Liu C (2010) The influence of water regulation on vegetation in the lower Heihe River. J Geograp Sci 20(5):701–711CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Jiao WX, Xu ZM (2013) A distributed runoff model for the mountainous region of the Heihe River Basin (China) based on the spatial modeling environment (SME) I: model structure and equations. Environ Earth Sci 68:881–888. doi: 10.1007/s12665-012-1793-x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Jin X, Schaepman ME, Clevers JGPW, Bob Z (2009) Impact and consequences of evapotranspiration changes on water resources availability in the arid Zhangye Basin China. Int J Remote Sens 30(12):3223–3238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Jin X, Schaepman M, Clevers J, Su Z, Hu G (2010) Correlation between annual runoff in the Heihe River to the vegetation cover in the Ejina Oasis (China). Arid Land Res Manag 24(1):31–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kustas WP, Norman JM (1996) Use of remote sensing for evapotranspiration monitoring over land surfaces. Hydrol Sci 41:495–516Google Scholar
  38. Li S, Zhao W (2010) Satellite-based actual Evapotranspiration estimation in the middle reach of the Heihe River basin using the SEBAL method. Hydrol Process 24:3337–3344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Li ZL, Tang R, Wan Z, Bi Y, Zhou C, Tang B, Yan G, Zhang X (2009) A review of current methodologies for regional evapotranspiration estimation from remotely sensed data. Sensors 9:3801–3853CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Li X, Lu L, Yang W, Cheng G (2012) Estimation of evapotranspiration in an arid region by remote sensing—a case study in the middle reaches of the Heihe River. Int J Appl Earth Inf Geoinf 17:85–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Liu B, Zhao W, Chang W, Li S, Zhang Z, Du M (2010) Water requirements and stability of oasis ecosystem in arid region, China. Environ Earth Sci 59:1235–1244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Malek E, Bingham GE (1993) Comparison of the Bowen ratio-energy balance and the water balance methods for the measurement of evapotranspiration. J Hydrol 146:209–220Google Scholar
  43. NASA (2011) Landsat 7. Science Data Users Handbook. http://landsathandbook.gsfc.nasa.gov/. Accessed 15 Feb 2013
  44. Qi S, Cai Y (2007) Mapping and assessment of degraded land in the Heihe River Basin, Arid Northwestern China. Sensors 7(11):2565–2578Google Scholar
  45. Qi SZ, Luo F (2005) Water environmental degradation of the Heihe River Basin in arid northwestern China. Environ Monit Assess 108:205–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Qi S, Wang T et al (2004) Land desertification and sustainable development in Heihe River Basin, Northwestern China. Res Soil Water Conserv 11(2):94–96 (In Chinese with abstract in English)Google Scholar
  47. Rango A (1994) Application of remote sensing methods to hydrology and water resources. Hydrol Sci J 39:309–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Reddy JM, Muhammedjanov S, Jumaboev K, Eshmuratov D (2012) Analysis of cotton water productivity in Fergana Valley of Central Asia. Agric Sci 3:822–834Google Scholar
  49. Roerink GJ, Su Z, Menenti M (2000) S-SEBI: a simple remote sensing algorithm to estimate the surface energy balance. Phys Chem Earth Part B Hydrol Oceans Atmos 25:147–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Satellite Imaging Corporation (2012) Characterization of satellite remote sensing systems. http://www.satimagingcorp.com/characterization-of-satellite-remote-sensing-systems.html. Accessed 20 Mar 2013
  51. SBZC (Statistics Bureau of Zhangye City) (2003) Statistics yearbook of Zhangye City. Zhangye Press, Zhangye City (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  52. SEBAL, Advanced Training and Users Manual (2002) Water Consluting, Universitiy of Idaho, Water Watch Inc, Version 1.0Google Scholar
  53. Senay GB, Budde M, Verdin JP, Melesse AM (2007) A coupled remote sensing and simplified surface energy balance approach to estimate actual evapotranspiration from irrigated fields. Sensors 7:979–1000CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Shan X, Van de Velde R, Wen J, He Y, Verhoef W, Su Z (2008) Regional evapotranspiration over the arid inland Heihe River Basin in northwest China. In: Proc. Dragon 1 programme final results 2004–2007, Beijing, PR ChinaGoogle Scholar
  55. Si JH, Feng Q, Zhang XY, Liu W, Su YH, Zhang YW (2005) Growing season evapotranspiration from Tamarix ramosissima stands under extreme arid conditions in northwest China. Environ Geol 48:861–870CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Siebert S, Burke J, Faures JM, Frenken K, Hoogeveen J, Döll P, Portman FT (2010) Groundwater use for irrigation—a global inventory. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 14:1863–1880CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sobrino JA, Gómez M, Jiménez-Muñoz JC, Olioso A, Chehbouni G (2005) A simple algorithm to estimate evapotranspiration from DAIS data: Application to the DAISEX campaigns Original Research Article. J Hydrol 315:117–125Google Scholar
  58. Sobrino JA, Gómez M, Jiménez-Muñoz JC, Olioso A (2007) Application of a simple algorithm to estimate daily evapotranspiration from NOAA–AVHRR images for the Iberian Peninsula. Rem Sensing Environ 110:139–148Google Scholar
  59. Thevs, N (2012) Personal contactGoogle Scholar
  60. Thevs N, Zerbe S, Gahlert F, Mijit M, Succow M (2007) Productivity of reed (Phragmites australis Trin. ex. Staud.) in continental-arid NW China in relation to soil, groundwater, and land-use. J Appl Bot Food Qual 81:62–68Google Scholar
  61. Thevs N, Zerbe S, Peper J, Succow M (2008a) Vegetation and vegetation dynamics in the Tarim River floodplain of continental-arid Xinjian, NW China. Phytocoenologia 38(1–2):65–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Thevs N, Zerbe S, Schnittler M, Abdusalih N, Succow M (2008b) Structure, reproduction and flood-induced dynamics of riparian Tugay forests at the Tarim River in Xinjiang, NW China. Forestry 81(1):45–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Thevs N, Rouzi A, Kubal C, Abdusalih N (2013) Water consumption of agriculture and natural ecosystems along the Tarim River, China. Geo-Öko 34:50–76Google Scholar
  64. Thevs N, Ovezmuradov K, Zanjani LV, Zerbe S (2014) Water consumption of agriculture and natural ecosystems at the Amu Darya in Lebap Province. Environmental Earth Sciences, Turkmenistan. doi: 10.1007/s12665-014-3084-1 Google Scholar
  65. Thomas FM, Foetzki A, Arndt SK, Bruelheide H, Gries D, Zeng FJ, Zhang XM, Runge M (2006) Water use by perennial plants in the transition zone between river oasis and desert in NW China. Basic Appl Ecol 7:253–267Google Scholar
  66. Thompson (2008) The Aral Sea crisis. http://www.columbia.edu/~tmt2120/introduction.htm. Accessed 15 Feb 2013
  67. Wang G, Cheng G, Xu Z (1999) Water resources use and ecoenvironment problems in arid northwest China. J Nat Resour 14:19–116Google Scholar
  68. Wang G, Cheng G, Shen Y (2002) Eco-environmental variations and control strategies in Heihe Corridor region in the past 50 years. J Nat Resource 17(1):78–86Google Scholar
  69. Wang G, Liu J, Kubota J, Chen L (2007) Effects of land-use changes on hydrological processes in the middle basin of the Heihe River, northwest China. Hydrol Process 21:1370–1382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Wang JF, Guo CD, Gao YG, Long AH, Xu ZM, Li X, Chen H, Barker T (2008) Optimal water resource allocation in arid and semi-arid areas. Water Resour Manag 22:239–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Wang Y, Xiao HI, Wang RF (2009) Water scarcity and water use in economic systems in Zhangye City, northwestern China. Water Resour Manag 23:2655–2668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Wang P, Zhang Y, Yu J, Fu, Ao F (2011) Vegetation dynamics induced by groundwater fluctuations in the lower Heihe River Basin. J Plant Ecol 4:77–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Wen X, Wu Y, Su J, Zhang Y, Liu F (2005) Hydrochemical characteristics and salinity of groundwater in the Ejina Basin, Northwestern China. Environ Geol 48:665–675CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Wu BF, Jiang LP, Yan N, Perry C, Zeng HW (2013) Basin-wide evapotranspiration management: concept and practical application in Hai Basin, China. Agric Water Manag 145:145–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Xiao S, Xiao H, Peng X, Tian Q (2014) Daily and seasonal stem radial activity of Populus euphratica and its association with hydroclimatic factors in the lower reaches of China’s Heihe River basin. Environ Earth Sci 72:609–621. doi: 10.1007/s12665-013-2982-y CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Yang YT, Shang SH, Jiang L (2012) Remote sensing temporal and spatial patterns of evapotranspiration and the responses to water management in a large irrigation district of North China. Agric For Meteorol 164:112–122Google Scholar
  77. Yuan B, Zhang P, Shao M, Luoa Y, Zhu X (2014) Energy and water exchanges over a riparian Tamarix spp. stand in the lower Tarim River basin under a hyper-arid climate. Agric For Meteorol 194:144–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Zhang J, (2005) Barriers to water markets in Chinas Heihe River basin. Resaerch Report, Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia, No. 2005-RR8Google Scholar
  79. Zhang Y, Yu J, Wang P, Fu G (2011) Vegetation responses to integrated water management in the Ejina basin, northwest China. Hydrol Process 25:3448–3461CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Zhao W, Chang X, He Z, Zhang Z (2007) Study on vegetation ecological water requirement in Ejina Oasis. Sci China Ser D Earth Sci 50:121–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Zhao W, Liu B, Zhang Z (2010) Water requirements of maize in the middle Heihe River basin. Agric Water Manag 97:215–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Zheleznyh V, Risbekov Yu (1987) Analysis of experimental investigations on lysimeters comparatively with data on cotton field. http://www.cawater-nfo.net/bk/water_land_resources_use/english/iptrid/uz_34.pdf

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Botany and Landscape EcologyUniversity of GreifswaldGreifswaldGermany
  2. 2.Chinese Research Academy of Environmental SciencesBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations