Water users associations and irrigation water productivity in northern China

L. Zhang, N. Heerink, L.K.E. Dries, F. Qu

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56 Citations (Scopus)


Traditional irrigation water management systems in China are increasingly replaced by user-based, participatory management through water users associations (WUAs) with the purpose to promote, economically and ecologically beneficial, water savings and increase farm incomes. Existing research shows that significant differences exist in the institutional setup of WUAs in China, and that WUAs have not been universally successful in saving water and improving farm incomes. This paper aims to examine the underlying causes of differences in WUA performance by analyzing the impact of WUA characteristics on the productivity of irrigation water. Explanatory variables in our analysis are derived from Agrawal's user-based resource governance framework. Applying a random intercept regression model to data collected among 21 WUAs and 315 households in Minle County in northern China, we find that group characteristics, particularly group size and number of water users groups, and the existing pressure on available water resources are important factors in water productivity. Resource characteristics, i.e. resource size and degree of overlap between the WUA boundaries and natural boundaries, do not significantly affect water productivity in our research area.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-136
JournalEcological Economics
Issue numberNovember
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • northwest china
  • institutional reform
  • heihe river
  • systems
  • scarcity
  • markets
  • agriculture
  • incentives
  • governance
  • panaceas


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