Maintenance and restoration of traditional irrigation systems

Maintenance and restoration of traditional irrigation systems
Artificial water transportation systems are important landscape elements. © Zaubervogel/

Involved sectors

Agriculture, Water management, Spatial planning, Tourism and leisure, Nature protection

Affected habitats

Grassland, Arable land


As early as the Middle Ages, complex irrigation systems were created in various Alpine regions with low precipitation, in order to bring water from the mountains to the farmed areas in the valleys, often at some distance away. These artificial water transportation systems, often many kilometres in length (e.g. the “suonen” channels in Valais, Switzerland, the “acquedotti” in Val di Non (Trentino/Italy) and the “waale” in South Tyrol) are important landscape features with great significance for various associated habitats (lines of trees, mosaics of wet, semi-dry and dry sites). The conservation, restoration and maintenance of these elements are supported on a project basis or through the payment of maintenance premiums.


Impact in particular on Amphibians, Birds, Insects
Ecological impact  
Improvement or preservation of habitats As a result of the abandonment of the irrigation systems, pipe installation and the use of sprinkler systems on farmland, important landscape structures and habitats that act as corridors or stepping stone biotopes in a functional ecosystem (e.g. lines of deciduous trees on dry slopes) are disappearing.
Element of ecological network Due to their net-like structure, the irrigation systems form linear connecting elements in a biotope network.
Time of realisation for measure Long term: This is a long-term measure whose initial outcomes can only be observed after several years as the associated flora and fauna only gradually become established and habitats take time to recover and develop.
Impact scope Local (municipality): These measures are mainly suitable for implementation in regions where such irrigation systems and channels exist. Depending on the size of the system, the measures may affect individual municipalities or entire regions.


Implementation period Months: Maintenance, repair and management measures are long-term activities.
Frequency Recurring: Requires implementation of long-term measures.

Economic and legal aspects

Costs Medium (10'000-100'000 EUR): In South Tyrol, for example, maintenance of the “waale” receives an amount up to a maximum of 70% of recognised projected costs.
Socio-economic impacts Medium: In the tourism sector, may be marketed successfully as part of a hiking trail concept (e.g. the Waalweg paths in South Tyrol).
Sources of financing Other private sources, Public: local, Public: regional, Public: national, Public: European
Legal situation The management and restoration of traditional irrigation systems are funded by agricultural and/or nature conservation programmes in various areas.

Further information

Evaluation Experience has been gained in South Tyrol, which has the most extensive system in the Alpine region, Valais, Switzerland, and elsewhere.
Information Other: Information about contributions to landscape management in South Tyrol: Amt für Natur- und Landschaft (Office of Nature and Landscape) Project: "Kulturlandschaft Zeneggen 2000" (Cultural Landscape Zeneggen 2000)
Contact Italy: e.g. Amt für Natur- und Landschaft (Office of Nature and Landscape), South Tyrol

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