The traditional cascade tank irrigation system in the Anuradhapura District of the North Central Province of Sri Lanka dates back to the 4th Century BC or earlier. These sophisticated hydraulic systems sustained a self-sufficient agricultural society in an ancient civilization, which thrived for thousands of years.
Traditionally, cascade tank systems have been very productive and sustainable. The collection, storage and slow release of water provide a lifeline to farmers and ecosystems during the dry season. They not only minimise the risk of drought, but also that of pollution and flooding downstream. Similarly, they aid groundwater recharge, as well as water and soil conservation. However, over the past few hundred years they fallen into disrepair gradually, with adverse direct consequences for the communities, economies and ecosystems dependent on them.
IUCN Sri Lanka and HSBC Sri Lanka recently announced their partnership, and launched the restoration of one such cascade system - the Kapiriggama tank system. This tank system is situated in the Anuradhapura District and had fallen into disuse for many decades. Its restoration will be implemented by IUCN Sri Lanka, along with its key partner, the Department of Agrarian Development, in three phases, over three years.
The project aims to increase access to water for agriculture, and enhance the livelihoods and ecosystems associated with the tank system and its environment, based on integrated water resources management and wetland management principles. Through the application of a holistic and integrated approach, the project will seek to establish, for the first time, best practices to guide future restoration work, based on scientific research. By partnering with key stakeholders, including local communities, far reaching socio-economic, ecological, cultural, aesthetic and spiritual benefits, such as the promotion of tank-based fisheries, increased food security, livelihood development and enhanced ecological services, are expected. Traditional local expertise will be incorporated into the project, while whole households will be empowered as they become important agents, as well as beneficiaries, of the restoration process.
IUCN will gather key agencies and individual experts with experience in this field to form a Technical Advisory Panel, which will be instrumental in planning and implementing this project, as well as in developing mechanisms for self-management within the cascade system. Along with its project partners, IUCN will also produce policy briefs that will inform tank restoration activities, and the management and development of the system. It is anticipated that on its successful completion, the project will become a regional benchmark and model for replication and best practices.