Rainwater Cellars [China]

technologies_1335 - China

Completeness: 51%

1. General information

1.2 Contact details of resource persons and institutions involved in the assessment and documentation of the Technology

Key resource person(s)

SLM specialist:
Name of project which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)
Best Practices for Land Degradation Control in Dryland Areas of China (Best Practices China)

1.3 Conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT

The compiler and key resource person(s) accept the conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT:


1.4 Declaration on sustainability of the described Technology

Is the Technology described here problematic with regard to land degradation, so that it cannot be declared a sustainable land management technology?


1.5 Reference to Questionnaire(s) on SLM Approaches (documented using WOCAT)

2. Description of the SLM Technology

2.1 Short description of the Technology

Definition of the Technology:

The use of courtyard, roof, road surface, slope, etc. as catchments to collect rainwater for underground water storage for future supply of cropland irrigation as well as drinking water for humans and livestock.

2.2 Detailed description of the Technology


The demonstration site is located in mid Gansu, semi-arid gully area of the Loess Plateau, where either surface or groundwater is in great shortage. The annual precipitation is around 380mm with 60% concentrated in July, August and September in storm form. Due to scarce vegetation and serious soil erosion. The agricultural farming is rainfed, but the timing of precipitation and water demand of crops do not coincide, so that the rainwater utilization is extremely low. Low productivity of land and shortage of water for mankind and animal leads to poverty. Since 1980s the government has organized local people in mid Gansu to explore the utilization of water cellars to achieve coincided precipitation, i.e. collecting rainwater to solve water shortage and develop dryland crop cultivation.

Water cellars are used mainly for the interception of rainwater to supply water for humans and livestock as well as for the irrigation of crops. The cellar is comprised of the cellar body and an ancillary facility, including catchment area, delivery facility (ditch, silt tank, stain interception grate, inlet pipe, cellar opening and irrigation equipment). In general, water cellars are designed to 20-30m3 in capacity. The catchment should be chosen at hillside, road surface, courtyard, roofing, greenhouse roof, etc. For the location selection, considerations should be given to site landform and geological conditions and not proximity to ditch or trench banks, large tree stumps but close to farmland to maximize the possibility of self-flowing irrigation. In consideration of drinking water safety, the cellar should be built far from livestock sheds and toilets to prevent contamination. The silt tank is 2-3m wide, 1m deep and 2-3m away from the cellar opening, and higher than water cellar inlet. The dirt interception grate should be installed 0.5m higher than the base of the silt tank pond and upstream of the inlet. The platform of the water cellar should be 0.3-0.5m high above ground. In Anding District, the concrete cement sphere type water cellar is more often adopted, with the cellar vault/wall of 10cm and base of 20cm thick. At the demonstration site, the inner wall used to be lined with red puddle. Now concrete cement is used for the base and lined with cement and mortar. The water for irrigation does not need special treatment, but drinking water does. Irrigation is done by pumping for watering by ditches flowing to the farmland, hole watering or drip irrigation.

Since mid 1990s, the water cellar has expanded gradually. The 1-2-1 rainwater collection project (each household has 1 catchment, 2 water cellars and 1 patch of courtyard cashcrop forest) has played a significant role in the technology dissemination and poverty alleviation. Since 2000, water cellar function has been further extended toward multifunction for livestock raising, farmland/forest land irrigation and so forth, and greater economic and social benefits are captured by its combination with greenhouse development. Plastic film greenhouse roof was used as the catchment and two water cellars (30 cubic meters capacity for each) were set for each greenhouse. In combination with other technologies of mulched ditch irrigation or drip irrigation, water resource utilization has been tremendously increased. The technology has thereby triggered industrial restructuring as outstanding pilot sites for high benefit agricultural development.

2.3 Photos of the Technology

2.5 Country/ region/ locations where the Technology has been applied and which are covered by this assessment



Region/ State/ Province:

Gansu Province

Further specification of location:

Anding District, Dingxi City


Total area covered by the SLM Technology is 3638.7 km2.

3. Classification of the SLM Technology

3.1 Main purpose(s) of the Technology

  • improve production

3.2 Current land use type(s) where the Technology is applied

Land use mixed within the same land unit:


Specify mixed land use (crops/ grazing/ trees):
  • Agro-pastoralism (incl. integrated crop-livestock)




Longest growing period in days: 140, Longest growing period from month to month: May to October

Grazing land

Grazing land

Waterways, waterbodies, wetlands

Waterways, waterbodies, wetlands

  • Drainage lines, waterways
Main products/ services:

Rainwater Cellars


Major land use problems (compiler’s opinion):
- low precipitation, deficient groundwater, arid and short of water supply;
- rainfall in form of storms to form runoff arousing serious soil and water erosion;
- low and unstable land productivity because of aridness and soil infertility.

3.5 SLM group to which the Technology belongs

  • irrigation management (incl. water supply, drainage)
  • water diversion and drainage

4. Technical specifications, implementation activities, inputs, and costs

4.4 Costs and inputs needed for establishment

Specify input Unit Quantity Costs per Unit Total costs per input % of costs borne by land users
Labour labour 1.0 140.0 140.0
Equipment steel bar 1.0 26.7 26.7
Construction material sand gravel 1.0 33.3 33.3
Construction material concrete cement 1.0 40.0 40.0
Construction material bricks 1.0 5.3 5.3
Other transportation 1.0 26.7 26.7
Total costs for establishment of the Technology 272.0
Total costs for establishment of the Technology in USD 272.0

4.6 Costs and inputs needed for maintenance/ recurrent activities (per year)

Specify input Unit Quantity Costs per Unit Total costs per input % of costs borne by land users
Labour labour 1.0 23.3 23.3 100.0
Other transportation 1.0 2.67 2.67 100.0
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology 25.97
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology in USD 25.97

5. Natural and human environment

5.1 Climate

Annual rainfall
  • < 250 mm
  • 251-500 mm
  • 501-750 mm
  • 751-1,000 mm
  • 1,001-1,500 mm
  • 1,501-2,000 mm
  • 2,001-3,000 mm
  • 3,001-4,000 mm
  • > 4,000 mm
Agro-climatic zone
  • semi-arid

5.2 Topography

Slopes on average:
  • flat (0-2%)
  • gentle (3-5%)
  • moderate (6-10%)
  • rolling (11-15%)
  • hilly (16-30%)
  • steep (31-60%)
  • very steep (>60%)
  • plateau/plains
  • ridges
  • mountain slopes
  • hill slopes
  • footslopes
  • valley floors
Altitudinal zone:
  • 0-100 m a.s.l.
  • 101-500 m a.s.l.
  • 501-1,000 m a.s.l.
  • 1,001-1,500 m a.s.l.
  • 1,501-2,000 m a.s.l.
  • 2,001-2,500 m a.s.l.
  • 2,501-3,000 m a.s.l.
  • 3,001-4,000 m a.s.l.
  • > 4,000 m a.s.l.

5.3 Soils

Soil depth on average:
  • very shallow (0-20 cm)
  • shallow (21-50 cm)
  • moderately deep (51-80 cm)
  • deep (81-120 cm)
  • very deep (> 120 cm)
Soil texture (topsoil):
  • fine/ heavy (clay)
Topsoil organic matter:
  • medium (1-3%)

5.6 Characteristics of land users applying the Technology

Market orientation of production system:
  • mixed (subsistence/ commercial)

5.8 Land ownership, land use rights, and water use rights

Land ownership:
  • state
  • group
Land use rights:
  • individual

6. Impacts and concluding statements

6.1 On-site impacts the Technology has shown

Socio-economic impacts

Other socio-economic impacts

Short term economic burden


6.2 Off-site impacts the Technology has shown

Reduce silt inflow of the downstream


Runoff decease of the downstream


6.4 Cost-benefit analysis

How do the benefits compare with the establishment costs (from land users’ perspective)?
Short-term returns:


Long-term returns:


How do the benefits compare with the maintenance/ recurrent costs (from land users' perspective)?
Short-term returns:


Long-term returns:


6.7 Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities of the Technology

Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view
Intercept and retain runoff and reduce soil and water losses
Supplementary irrigation to the cropland for higher production

6.8 Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks of the Technology and ways of overcoming them

Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view How can they be overcome?
High initial establishment cost seek more project support

7. References and links

7.1 Methods/ sources of information

  • field visits, field surveys
  • interviews with land users
When were the data compiled (in the field)?


7.2 References to available publications

Title, author, year, ISBN:

Wang Lin, Water cellar Construction technology for rainwater collection and water-saving irrigation in the mountainous areas, Gansu water conservancy and hydro power technology. 2002 38(4)

Links and modules

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