Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tran Chi Trung, MSc. Nguyen Van Kien

Center for Participatory Irrigation Management

Vietnam Academy for Water Resources

  1. Introduction

The operation and management of irrigation structures are decisive to effectiveness of irrigation systems, especially in the Mekong River Delta. The Mekong Delta region has different needs for water use not only for agriculture, fisheries but also for other socio-economic development purposes such as environment, natural disaster prevention, inundation, tourism. The Mekong Delta region is increasingly affected by the upstream development, intra-regional development as well as the impacts of climate change and sea water level rising.

The irrigation system in Mekong Delta are open networks. Most of these systems do not have water intake structures or regulators. Meanwhile, the organization of management and exploitation of irrigation structure is not uniform. State management and management of irrigation structure have not been separated. Some provinces have not yet organized a professiongal irrigation management organization of provincial-level. Based on results of the project “Building a management model for Cai Lon-Cai Be irrigation system and inter-provincial irrigation systems in the Mekong Delta”, this paper analyzes current situation of management of irrigation system in Mekong Delta.

  1. Organizations of Irrigation Managementa      

         a. Irrigation management at Provincial level

The provincial organizations of irrigation management in Mekong Delta includes include following types:

– 04 Provincial Irrigation Management Companies (State – owned company) include Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Tra Vinh and An Giang provinces.

– 01 Irrigation Management Joint stock Company in Soc Trang province.

– 03 Irrigation Management Center in provinces of Long An, Ca Mau, Bac Lieu under Deparment of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD)

– 05 Irrigation Department (under DARD) including Dong Thap, Vinh Long, Can Tho, Hau Giang and Kien Giang provinces.

Fig 1. Types of provincial organizations for irrigation Management

Most of the IMCs operate and manage irrigation work under the irrigation management decentralization decision of their provinces. Meanwhile, in Ben Tre province, IMC O&M irrigation from headworks to fields. The Soc Trang Irrigation Joint Stock Company only operates irrigation works without performing maintenance and dredging of canals. Therefore, Soc Trang Joint-stock Company often does not focus on maintenance and repair of works because of profit-oriented.

The provincial Water Resources Departments in Kien Giang, Can Tho and Hau Giang do both state management and irrigation works operation. Meanwhile, the Water Resources Departments in Dong Thap and Vinh Long implement only state management.

          b. Irrigation management at district level

Several provinces establish organizations of irrigation works exploitation at district-level such as Agricultural Service Centers in Long An and Bac Lieu provinces, district/inter-district irrigation management station under the Water Resources Department in An Giang province; Irrigation stations under the District People’s Committee / Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Can Tho and Hau Giang provinces or Department of Agriculture and Rural Development participates in management and exploitation of irrigation structure in Vinh Long, Kien Giang.

Out of staffs for O&M of Departments of  Water Resources, Agriculture and Rural office or Economics and Infrastructures Office, the workers are contacted in charge of managing and operating irrigation works at irrigation stations. In the irrigation works managed by district level, only 3-5 persions operate and protect the works.

In addition, Vinaconex Joint Stock Company directly manages 39 small and medium pumping stations in Dong Thap province.

          c) Water User Organizations (WUOs)

A few localities have established Agricultural co-operatives, irrigation cooperative groups, irrigation service groups. For the remaining places, the commune People’s Committee manage irrigation works. In addition, in many irrigation embankment area, private management of irrigation structures (mostly pumping stations).

3. Decentralization of Irrigation Management

Decentralization of Irrigation Management is based on Circular 05/2018/TT-BNNPTNT (replacing Circular 65/2009/TT-BNNPTNT). Currently, there are 8/13 provinces have issued decisions to decentralize management of irrigation works, including: Long An, Tien Giang, Dong Thap, Vinh Long, Hau Giang, An Giang, and Bac Lieu. Main criteria of irrigation decentralization management of provinces as following:

– The provincial irrigation management companies, Centers or Department of Water Resources manage large and medium irrigation works that require complex operating techniques, inter-provincial structures; main canals, branch canals and inter-province or border provincial canals, inter-district secondary canals.

– The district People’s Committees, Agriculture and Rural Development Offices, Irrigation District Offices manage of irrigation structures with service areas within a district like small sluice gate or conduits, secondary canals, inter-communes or individual structures;

– People’s communes, water user organization manage small scale irrigation works (small pumping stations, conduits or culverts…), tertiary and on-farm irrigation and drainedge canals;

The result in Table 1 shows that, there are 15,359 irrigation works; the most common are intake sluices and pumping stations, some reservoirs (only in An Giang and Kien Giang). Provincial organizations that manage 1.410 irrigation headworks, most of them are small scale irrigation works (84% small scale, 15% medium and 1% large scale irrigation works in total). The district organizations and communes O&M 13.949 irrigation structures, most of them are small scale irrigation works (medium scale hyraulic works only 1% in sub-total in Hau Giang and Tra Vinh).

For canal networks, provincial organizations opetate large and medium canals, such as main canals, branch canals and inter-districts canals. Most of them are medium size canals (95% medium size canals and 5% large size canals). District organizations direct operate or decentralize to commune to manage secondary canals, teriary canals and on-farm canals)

Table 1. Results of Decentralization of management of irrigation structures in the Mekong Delta

No Province Total Number of irrigation structures decentralized to Provincial organizations Number of irrigation structures decentralized to District organizations
Sub-Total Medium irrigation structures Large irrigation structures Sub-total Medium irrigation structures Large irrigation structures
1 Dong Thap 3834 0 0 0 3834 0 0
2 An Giang 5,067 170 19 2 4,897 0 0
3 Long An 879 52 18 0 827 0 0
4 Tien Giang 774 186 17 2 588 0 0
5 Ben Tre 1,891 148 10 3 1,743 0
6 Vinh Long 144 10 1 1 134 0 0
7 Tra Vinh 289 176 11 8 113 1 0
8 Can Tho 36 36 10 0
9 Soc Trang 708 136 15 0 572
10 Bac Lieu 101 46 9 1 55 0
11 Hau Giang 575 124 25 0 451 8 0
12 Kien Giang 801 135 25 4 666 0 0
13 Ca Mau 260 191 49 1 69 0
Total 15,359 1,410 209 22 13,949 9 0

        3. Method of irrigation services management

The general method of irrigation service management in the region are Provincial People’s Committees assigns Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to be the focal agency to assign tasks, order service delivery to irrigation management companies, Center or Department of water resources to manage main canals, branch canal, inter-district secondary canals, sluices type I and type II, medium and large pumping stations. For remaining irrigation structures and canal networks, the provincial goverments assigns to the district people comiitees or commune to organize and manage by themselves in the form of ordering or bidding with water user organizations. Specifically, there are 3 methods of irrigation service management in the Mekong Delta are follow:

– There are 07 provinces implemting method of tasks assign, includings: Tien Giang, Tra Vinh, Vinh Long, Ben Tre, Bac Lieu, Long An and Ca Mau.

– There are 02 provinces implemting method of orders, includings: An Giang, Soc Trang.

– There are 03 provinces applying the form of bidding for samll irrigation schemes: Hau Giang, An Giang và Can Tho.

4. Finance for O&M of irrigation works

Most of incomes for O&M are supported from the Central Government through irrigation service supporting policy. In addition, in some localities, funds are also provided for prevent drought, inundation and saline intrusion (An Giang, Tien Giang, Tra Vinh, Ben Tre) and local budget partially support for dredging canals (previously as cost of regular repair of irrigation works) from some sources, suchs as new rural construction and local budget reserve (Tien Giang). According to the survey results at the Irrigation Departments, the rate of use of support funds by localities in 2019 in the Mekong Delta is as follows:

Expense for irrigation services is yearly granted by State Budget. Total supported money of the whole country is more than 6,900 billion VND; 13 provinces in Mekong Delta had received 1,799.1 billion VND (2019). The average money allocation rate of between provincial units and district units are 53% and 47% in the total.  Main different to compare with other regions in Vietnam is the expenses components for O&M. There are only 9,2% allowcation for operation and management and 90,8% remaining for maitainance, regular repair and canal dredging. We found that, the allowcation of expense component is the lowest for operation and highest for maitainance if to compare with other regions in Vietnam.

Table 2. Fund using rate of localities in Mekong Delta

No Province Budget in 2019 (billion VND) Distribution of funds (%) Structure of funding (%)
Provincial District Opetation  





Irrigation management organizion at provincial-level Project Management Unit
1 Dong Thap 202.4 0 15 85 0 100
2 An Giang 176.88 22 25 53 12.2 87.8
3 Long An 179.2 46.8 52.9 0.3 5.9 94.1
4 Tien Giang 79.03 37.9 10.6 51.5 37.9 62.1
5 Ben Tre 71.01 88.5   11.5 17.69 82.31
6 Vinh Long 134.09 76.1 23.9 100
7 Tra Vinh 108.11 61.7 0 38.3 10.2 89.8
8 Can Tho 72.54 58 0 42 9.1 90.9
9 Soc Trang 158.53 7.5 56 36.5 8.4 91.7
10 Bac Lieu 162.75 4 44.3 51.8 3.3 96.7
11 Hau Giang 83.72 11 0 89 6.2 93.8
12 Kien Giang 186 17 0 83 2.8 97.2
13 Ca Mau 184.65 54.7 45.3 5.7 94.3
  Total/Average 1798.91 37.3 15.7 47.0 9.2 90.8

For the irrigation managing organizations, according to Circular 73/2009/TT-BTC, the expenses of enterprises include: operation and maintenance works, depreciation of fixed assets, management expenses and other expenses directly related to the provision of irrigation products and services. However, unlike other regions in the country, in the Mekong Delta region, expenditure on management and operation of organizations managing and exploiting irrigation works accounts for a relatively low rate of 39.5%, while Maintenance expenditure, which is mainly regular repair, major repair and unexpected repair, accounted for a fairly large proportion (ratio 60.5%), the highest in the country. However, the structure of using funds to support irrigation services in the provinces is different according to the type of management organization. Soc Trang Joint Stock Company uses 100% of the grant support for operation management but the Project Management Board in Vinh Long province uses 100% of the grant support irrigation service for regular repairs, dredging canal, or the  in Long An, Ca Mau use 80-90% for regular repair and dredging of canals.

For management of irrigation support at district level, most of fund allowcation is allocated to the Agriculture and Rural Development Department to reppair irrigation works like irrigation projects such as dredging, repairing canals and spend small fund for sluice gate keeper rentingo.  For example, in Soc Trang, Tien Giang and Vinh Long provices, the Agriculture and Rural Development Departmen provide support to gate keeper approximately 500,000 VND/sluice per month.

Table 3. The Distribution of grant suport from Central Goverment to O&M at the irrigation management organizations at provincial level

No Province Irrigation management organizations Amount 2019 (billion VND) Rate of using irrigation services support fund  (%)
Operation Maintaince (repairing/dredging)
1 Dong Thap Department of Water Resources 0,0 0 0
2 An Giang Irrigation Management Company (state owned) 38,9 55,0 45,0
3 Long An Irrigation Management Centre 83,9 11,9 88,1
4 Tien Giang Irrigation Management Company (state owned) 30,0 100,0 0,0
5 Ben Tre Irrigation Management Company (state owned) 62,8 20,0 80,0
6 Vinh Long Project Invesment Management Unit 102,0 0,0 100,0
7 Tra Vinh Irrigation Management Company (state owned) 66,7 16,5 83,5
8 Can Tho Department of Water Resources 42,1 8,0 92,0
9 Soc Trang Department of Water Resources 9,2 57,0 43,0
10 Bac Lieu Department of Water Resources 31,6 13,0 87,0
11 Hau Giang Irrigation Joint Stoke Company (private company) 11,9 100,0 0,0
12 Kien Giang Irrigation Management Centre 6,5 82,5 17,5
13 Ca Mau Irrigation Management Centre 101,0 10,4 89,6
Total/Average 586,6 39,5 60,5

5. Inadequacies in irrigation management in Mekong Delta

          a) Problems of organizational management models:

– Type of organization model is not uniform in the provinces, and there is confusion between state management function and irrigation services. For provincial-level units, only 5 out of 13 provinces have Irrigation Management Company (An Giang, Tien Giang, Tra Vinh, Ben Tre, Soc Trang) as prescribed in Clause 1, Article 23 of the Law on Water Resources; other types (sub-departments, centers or management boards) to management of irrigation works are no longer in compliance with the provisions of the Law on Water Resources.

– The operation of the provincial irrigation management enterprises are not really effective, all of them are still waiting for funding from the source of irrigation services support of the central government; business activities are not commensurate with the resources and assets of irrigation infrastructure that enterprises are assigned to manage.

– For the provincial irrigation departments that in charge in irrigation management: Because provincial irrigation departments are administrative or non-business units, civil servants and public employees work part-time, the remuneration is only applied according to rank and professional level. With no other funding, the responsibilities and pressures are increasing. Therefore, the activities of the Irrigation Department currently only stop at professional guidance, state operations and appraisal of a number of dredging and repair projects as assigned by the Provincial People’s Committee.

– Lack of irrigation staffs in the localities, especially in the provinces that do not have a specialized unit to perform O&M tasks. The contingent of civil servants and irrigation workers is not only lacking in number, but most of them have not met the requirement capacity conditions as prescribed in Decree 67/2018/ND-CP, especially for large irrigation works or inter-province irrigation structures. Many irrigation organizations have to hire seasonal contracts to operate and protect the works (Soc Trang, Bac Lieu, Long An, Can Tho, Ca Mau, Tra Vinh), most of the operating workers are only assigned to manage sluices and no one renting for the management of canals.

– Responsibility and authority in handling acts of infringing on irrigation works are not assigned to the direct management unit, but because many related units participate together, causing the situation of extrusion of responsibility. there is close coordination and not resolute in handling, leading to the increasing situation of encroachment on irrigation works. The situation of encroaching on the canal bed, dumping waste into irrigation works, illegally anchoring boats … within the protection of irrigation works occurs in many places and provinces (Ca Mau, Soc Trang, Bac Lieu, etc.). ..). Due to the small number of irrigation management forces and the lack of involvement of local authorities, many violations have not been thoroughly resolved so far.

– The implementation of transfer and decentralization of irrigation works to local irrigation organizations is still a formality. In fact, there are still many irrigation structures that lack of management organizations. A few localities have established WUOs such as cooperatives to manage and operate irrigation works, however, there are many localities where commune or private People’s Committees perform irrigation services.

           b) Problems of using irrigation services support for O&M:

– Annually, total suport funding to irrigation service is nearly 2,000 billion VND to provinces in Mekong Delta, but most of the expenses is used for repairing and dredging canals, about 1,633.5 billion VND, accounting for 90.8% (according to construction). Thus, the purpose of using this funding source of provinces is not correct in principle according to the Law on Irrigation and Circular No. 73/2018/TT-BTC in implementation of the management and exploitation of irrigation works.

– The beneficiaries of policy to irrigation support service are still have many shortcomings when 34.9% of the total support funds are transferred to provincial units that do not have the functions on irrigation O&M, specifically the Irrigation Department, the Investment Management Board of Agriculture and Rural Development Projects to set up repair and dredging irrigation projects.

         c) The reason why provinces have not established companies yet:

The main reasons that a number of provinces have not yet established IMC under the Law on Irrigation are as follows:

  1. Less of medium and large irrigation structures:

Table 4. Irrigation structures decentralzed to provincial organizations in provinces not yet having IMC  

No Province Irrigation Headworks Canal (km) Irrigation areas (ha)
Total Medium structures Large structures Total length Large canal length
1 Đồng Tháp 0 0 0 824,15 230,9 594,1
2 Long An 52 18 0 2.540,9 0 301,1
3 Vĩnh Long 10 1 1 498,4 60,8 632,2
4 Cần Thơ 36 10 0 1.437,4 29,41 236,2
5 Bạc Liêu 46 9 1 3.728,3 138 266,9
6 Hậu Giang 124 25 0 1.797,2 333,7 239,4
7 Kiên Giang 135 25 4 1.493,2 732,9
8 Cà Mau 191 49 1 6.358,4 287,2 207,5
Total 594 137 7 18.677,95 1.080,01 3.210,3

 In provinces where companies have not yet been established in the Mekong Delta, provincial organizations are decentralized to manage 594 medium and large projects, of which mainly medium projects (137 works, accounting for 23%), only there are 7 large works (accounting for 1%) and 1,080 km of major canals (accounting for 5.8%). Because the demand for management and operation of irrigation works is not great, localities often assign state management agencies or project management boards to concurrently manage and exploit the works.

Most provinces do not have large irrigation headworks, only Kien Giang province has 4 irrigation headworks, Vinh Long province has 1 irrigation headworks and Bac Lieu province has 1 irrigation headworks, but most of these irrigation headworks will be decentralized management to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The provinces with many projects are Ca Mau, Kien Giang, Can Tho and Long An. Meanwhile, Dong Thap province does not have medium-sized irrigation headworks and some provinces have very few headworks, such as Vinh Long and Bac Lieu. In terms of irrigated area, some provinces have a year-round irrigation area that is not as large as Can Tho, Ca Mau, Bac Lieu and Hau Giang provinces.

  1. Due to characteristics of the irrigation system in the Mekong Delta, which is highly inter-connected, there are almost no regulating structures, so the need for management and operation of irrigation works is not great, mainly operating a number of medium and large irrigation headworks in the provinces.
  2. Some provincial People’s Committees have not really drastically reorganized and consolidated organizations that manage of irrigation works into IMC in accordance with the provisions of the Law on Water Resources.
  3. The procedure for setting up state owned irrigation management company is complicated, because it has to go through many ministries and agencies, before apply to the Central Government accepted.

     6. Conclusions

The main problems about irrigation management in Mekong Delta are the subject for exploitation of irrigation works is not uniform in the provinces, and there is confusion between state management function and exploiting irrigation works tasks. Some provinces have irigation management organizations as non-business units, irrigation Departments or provinces not having provincial irrigation management organizations need to set up enterprises to exploit the irrigation works to separate state management function and exploiting irrigation works task. Funding for irrigation management is mainly from the state budget, while most of the expenses used for repairing and dredging canals account for 90.8%. Thus, the purpose of using this funding source of the locality is not correct in principle according to the Law on Irrigation and Circular No. 73/2018/TT-BTC in implementation of the management and exploitation of irrigation works. The beneficiaries of policy of supporting money for using public irrigation products and services still have many shortcomings when 34.9% of total support funds are transferred to the provincial units not having function of irrigation management. This research result is a practical basis for researching solutions to improve the efficiency of management and exploitation of irrigation works in Mekong Delta.