Valley reshaping and damming induce water table rise and soil salinization on the Chinese Loess Plateau

Zhao Jin, Li Guo, Yunqiang Wang, Yunlong Yu, Henry Lin, Yiping Chen, Guangchen Chu, Jing Zhang, Naipeng Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


A megaproject, “Gully Land Consolidation” (GLC), was launched on the Chinese Loess Plateau in 2011 to combat land degradation and create new farmlands. However, the newly-claimed farmlands have suffered soil salinization, and the mechanism of salinization has been inadequately addressed. In this study, a creek valley that completed the GLC project in 2014 was selected and a total of 17 new farmlands along the reshaped creek valley were investigated in 2016. Moreover, the hillslope farmlands without conducting the GLC project, the loess parent material that used to fill the stream channel, and the water samples from reservoirs, irrigation wells and spring outlets in the reshaped valley were sampled and chemically analyzed. We found that the new farmlands experienced a significant rise in the water table that played a key role on soil salinization. After GLC, >80% of the sampling sites (14 out of 17) showed a shallow depth (≤3 m) from the soil surface down to the groundwater influence zone. Moreover, the closer the downstream farmlands to the newly-built dams, the shallower the water table, indicating considerable impacts of constructing dams on the water table depth in the near-dam farmlands. At the study site, more than half of the shallow soil samples (20 cm depth) underwent light soil salinization, and the most significant soil salinity occurred in the upper stream farmlands. The interplay between a near-surface water table, a high evaporation rate, landform features, and the alkaline properties of the loessial soil has led to the significant soil salinization in the upper stream of the valley. To mitigate soil salinization and ensure the sustainability of the newly-created farmlands in GLC, drainage trenches in the downstream near-dam farmlands and the drainage canals on both sides of the reshaped valley are suggested, which improve the drainage efficiency and control the water table depth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-125
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Soil Science


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