China: The Functional and Protective Mechanism of Gravity Irrigation System in Ziquejie Terrace (#483)

The Ziquejie Terrace is one of the three famous Chinese ancient terraces in Hunan Province. The crops cultivated in the terraces can manage to thrive through drought and flood without reservoir or other water storage constructions. This traditional primitive gravity irrigation system is a model for ecological construction of irrigation systems. However, the mechanism of Gravity Irrigation and water allocation within Ziquejie Terrace has not been well revealed, which to large extent affects the efficiency of environmental and ecological protection for this extraordinary natural reserve.

Actions taken

To better understand the mechanism of Gravity Irrigation and water resource allocation and provide the background for future systematic managements within the Ziquejie Terrace, large amounts of observational data were collected and processed. The nonlinear autonomic regulation theory and “the groundwater reservoir on the same slope position” theory have been applied to model the water supply-demand balance model for groundwater irrigation.

Based on the knowledge gained from the model and the local features of planning, history and culture, functional zoning for Ziquejie Terrace is proposed. A broad consultation process culminated in adoption of protective regulations and measures applied in functional zones.


  • The results have been implemented in “The Planning Report of the Water Conservancy Project of Ziquejie Terrace Scenic Spot” and “The Implementation Plan of 2012 Waterwheel Project of Xinhua County”.
  • The results have been adopted by local government for preparing the application of World Heritage of Irrigation Projects.
  • The results have also been implemented by the local tourism department as the technical support for sustainable utilization and tourism development of Ziquejie Terrace.

Lessons learned

  • The gravity irrigation mechanism of Ziquejie Terrace has been proven correctly.
  • The protection strategy and measures of functional zones are relevant and have been promoted among local farmers.
  • The outcomes serve as the technical support for the sustainable development
  • The land protection and nature protection measures were linked through wise use of water resources. 

Photo credit: Farmland and houses in the Hunan province in China, by Jess Yu/