Adaptation to climate variability in Sri Lanka: a case study of the Huruluwewa irrigation system in the dry zone

This paper assesses how the Huruluwewa tank (HWT) irrigation system in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka adapts to climate variability. The lessons learned in the HWT will be helpful for many water-scarce irrigation systems in the country, which bear high climate risks. Recurrent droughts are the bane of agriculture in the Dry Zone, comprising three-fourths of the land area spread over the Northern, North Central and Eastern provinces. In the HWT, the fifteenth largest canal irrigation system in the country, adaptation to climate variability happens on several fronts: changes made by the irrigation management to the water release regime; changes in the cropping patterns practiced by farmers in the command area; and the use of groundwater, which is recharged from rainfall, reservoir storage and canal irrigation, as supplemental irrigation. Such adaptation measures ensure that the available water supply in the reservoir is adequate for 100% cropping intensity over two cropping seasons, even in drought years, and enhances economic water productivity in terms of value per unit of consumptive water use. Moreover, irrigation management should consider groundwater recharge through canal irrigation as a resource, which brings substantial agricultural and economic benefits not only for the command area but also outside the command area. The adaptation patterns implemented in HWT demonstrate how water-scarce irrigation systems can achieve higher economic water productivity, i.e., generate ‘more income per drop’ to enhance climate resilience for people in and outside the canal command areas.