Sustainability analysis for irrigation water management in the Aral Sea region

Ximing Cai, Daene C. McKinney, Mark W. Rosegrant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sustainable irrigation water management should simultaneously achieve two objectives: sustaining irrigated agriculture for food security and preserving the associated natural environment. A stable relationship should be maintained between these two objectives now and in the future, while potential conflicts between these objectives should be mitigated through appropriate irrigation practices. The Aral Sea region in Central Asia is such a region that is most famous for its conflict between sustaining irrigated agriculture and preserving the environment. The current status of irrigation water management in the Aral Sea region demonstrates the Aral Sea disaster as a prime example for unsustainable irrigation development. This paper presents an integrated modeling framework for sustainable irrigation management analysis and applies it to analyze irrigation water management in the Aral Sea region. Based on the modeling outputs, alternative futures of the irrigation practice in the region are explored and it is found that to maintain current irrigation practices will lead to worsening environmental and economic consequences. Investments in infrastructure improvements (about annualized US $299 million) and crop pattern change will be necessary to sustain the irrigated agriculture and the associated environment in the region. Moreover, a penalty tax on salt discharge less than 50 US$ per ton as an economic incentive may help address environmental problems, while having only a small effect on irrigation profit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1043-1066
Number of pages24
JournalAgricultural Systems
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 3 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Aral Sea
  • Irrigation water management
  • Sustainability
  • System analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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