Unveiling the Ingenious Ancient Irrigation Systems of Sri Lanka

Sustainable Practices from Ancient Irrigation Systems

  • Ancient irrigation systems closely aligned with nature, prioritizing the water needs of the entire ecosystem.
  • These systems served as repositories of indigenous knowledge, aiding in climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation, and land management.
  • Various structures like major tanks, small tanks, lakes, and canals were constructed to store rainfall water, benefiting the entire system.
  • The result was the sustained provision of economic, environmental, and social goods and services. 


irrigations tanks map
Shapes of various sizes in blue color show the distribution of large number of irrigation tanks in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka


  • Modern irrigation schemes have replaced many traditional tank-based systems, but they are susceptible to failure due to climate and ecosystem changes.
  • Presently, farmers are organized into legally recognized autonomous organizations, with each irrigation scheme having a Project Management Committee (PMC) consisting of representatives from Farmer Organizations and relevant government agencies.
  • Water allocation is discussed and determined through PMC meetings, but this system does not fully integrate farmers into the overall system.
  • The utilization of ancient reservoirs and diversions holds promise for enhancing sustainability and attractiveness.
  • This book explores the viability of a mosaic system that combines modern and ancient irrigation systems, aiming to enhance overall system resilience and improve farmers' livelihoods through increased productivity.