Irrigation systems were built and have operated mostly as part ofa larger or smaller functional complexes. Their significance, also from the point of view from potential heritage protection, thus increases with the identification and documentation not only of solitary structures but, in particular, of entire systems / functional complexes with descriptions of interrelationships between them. Independent objects or structures do not need to be particularly exceptional, although their involvement inthewider functional complex can create a uniquely undertaken solution. Inthefield of water management, criteria such as typological value, value of technological flow, authenticity of form and function, value of technological and systemic links with an overlap to agriculture and industry are especially important. This article provides information on possibilities of using traditional methods of historical and archive research and documentation of localities, and atthesame time using modern tools for systems over a more extensive area, including methods of digitisation and processing of documentation. 


Technical and industrial cultural heritage represents a relatively wide and, atthesame time, diverse group of buildings that represent examples ofthedevelopment of human civilization concerning technical and technological progress intheuse of land resources and the construction of settlement infrastructure. Historical irrigation systems are an important but, until recently, rather ignored part of this type of cultural heritage. These buildings have been the subject of increased interest in monument protection intheCzech Republic since approximately the end ofthe20th century. Their importance has generally grown in particular inthelast decade in connection with climate change, which requires the investigation of effective solutions and responses to its impacts. Historical irrigation systems are coming to the fore when it comes to the assessment of potential for their renovation, reconstruction or, on the other hand, removal and replacement with more up-to-date technologies. From this point of view, and the point of view oftheconnection with the cultural heritage oftheCzech Republic, it is important to identify and document in a timely manner possible heritage values of such objects and whole functional complexes, as well as define criteria and possibilities for their protection. In relation to this it is also important to strengthen education of this kind of industrial heritage, both among the professionals and lay public. 

In 2020, the project “Irrigation – rediscovered heritage, its documentation and popularisation” was initiated and financed withinthe“Programme ofapplied research and development of national and cultural identity” oftheMinistry of Culture for the period 2020–2022. The  project is focused on issues of irrigation as one ofthesectors of water management and landscape management in general terms. 

An integral part is the focus on industry in connection with the implementation of irrigation systems, structures and facilities, which can be added to the industrial heritage of our country. 

The aim oftheproject is to contribute to the achievement ofthespecific goals of this programme, which focus on the integration oftheresults of cultural heritage into educational processes, including the development of tools for documentation and record-keeping ofthemost endangered typological groups of movable and immovable cultural heritage. In particular, this project aims at preparing and implementing thematic exhibitions, supplemented with a reviewed catalogue, creation ofa specialised digital database, and digitally available educational and teaching materials on the given topic. Inthecase of development and testing of suitable documentation processes, attention was focused on verification of possible use of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) systems, thermal images ofthesurface, and landscape structures, GIS tools and 5G DTM for documenting objects, and hardware & software for digitisation ofarchive materials and visualisation of structures, systems, equipment, and so on. 

The objective ofthearticle is to present methodological procedures and functional tools, which have been selected, tested, and verified for use during the documentation and description of structures, objects, and their functional complexes using the example of one ofthemain typological groups; these are meadow irrigation systems using surface canals and detailed distribution and drainage systems which are connected to them, supplemented with necessary technological equipment, especially sluice gates, culverts, etc. This is one oftheoldest methods of irrigation, which has started to be heritage protected not only at a local level but also globally. 

Fig. 1. Demonstration of digitised drawings of project documentation for the implementation of an irrigation system through open ditches along the Morava river in the surroundings of Veselí nad Moravou in the 1930s (areas presented in Fig. 2 are highlighted in purple, i.e. detailed investigation of the current state of the system and objects).
Fig. 2. Example of location processing of individual objects and selected important elements of the irrigation system in the surroundings of Veselí nad Moravou on the basis
of current field investigations, ZABAGED® data


Generally speaking, in order to achieve the goals of similar research, it may be done via archival work, processing available analyses of input materials (especially historical documents and plans), but also current research of irrigation items and systems. Research ofthechosen systems was carried out by both fieldwork with pre-prepared mapping input, and by using modern UAV technologies. The  data was analysed and visualised with the help of GIS tools. The processing ofall obtained input documents enabled the creation of map sets and small maps for individual territories. These documents display in detail their location and condition of preserved and extinct irrigation systems, identification oftheir cultural-historical value, potential for restoration and other possible uses, as well as risks resulting from their preservation and use, which concerns each area of interest. 

In order to fulfil these aforementioned framework procedures, the research work was divided into three stages: 

  • compilation of research and archival work, processing of technical documents, overview of irrigation state, 
  • detailed fieldwork – record-keeping, description and visualisation of irrigation systems,
  • processing and presentation of project outputs.

A practical solution according to the framework methodology was thus focused on the collection of inputs, archival investigations and processing of information, documents, and plans for irrigation structures, objects, and systems. The  first stage involved the research of specialised literature which deals with the history and technological irrigation systems intheCzech Republic and neighbouring countries inthecontext of heritage preservation and protection of industrial heritage. In connection with the description of historical development, the typology of irrigation systems, including diagrams, was carried out. For defined areas of interest, an effort was made to gather all available materials, usually intheform of historical, technical documentation and plans, but also projects formed with the purpose of possible renewal of some segments ofthesystem, as well as the most detailed descriptions oftheoriginal parameters of irrigation systems of interest. The  materials gathered were continuously digitalised in order to secure their preservation in aggregated form, not only for future historical research and use for teaching in specialist schools, but also for informing interest groups, associations, and the wider public. 

Archives for the area oftheCzech Republic concerning modern irrigation systems of various typologies and generally also water management activities (under which irrigation projects falls), can be found in various location. There are archives atthecentral level, both domestic (National Archives oftheCzech Republic in Prague, Moravian Provincial Archives in Brno, Silesian Provincial Archives in Opava) and international (especially Allgemeines Verwaltungsarchiv and Finanz- und Hofkammerarchiv in Vienna for the period up to 1918). In addition, there are regional and district archives, as well as possibly the archives of institutions and personal collections of water management specialists. The implementation of irrigation measures was undertaken at a national level by state and provincial bodies, attheregional level by regional and district authorities, and at a local level by municipalities and water organisations (cooperatives), associations, and other professional institutions. 

Simultaneously, the relevant primary and secondary professional literature and published outputs were also analysed, as well as work with map data. Sources which dealt with water law, water literature, and the development ofapproaches to amelioration and irrigation were most often located. In addition, attention was focused on publications on water management in rural areas with a historical context. One ofthemost important research topics is the question of genesis, operation, and importance of so-called water cooperatives, which have been in existence since the 19th century in order to regulate water courses and conditions at a local, regional, and transregional scale. The  research results were used as proof ofthehistorical approach to solving the issue in question and also simultaneously analysed in terms ofthefunctionality of competent powers and potential for the current period. 

Irrigation issues were researched atthecartographic level. The  research of cartographic maps ofthetime of land registry and topographical nature was undertaken in order to study cartographic depictions of irrigation systems. Their spatial dislocation and accumulative hubs was also mapped. 


In modern terms (practically speaking from the 19th century), irrigation systems intheCzech lands have undergone huge development. The  basic prerequisites enabling the implementation of modern irrigation systems in were mainly favourable legislative, finance, and expert technical conditions. Education and promotion also played an important role. The  crucial legal regulation which defined water management inthewestern part oftheHabsburg Empire was the Imperial water act of 1869. This formed the basis for more detailed legislation intheindividual countries ofthemonarchy. These legislative documents were only part ofthewhole, which enabled the development of water management inthesector of regulation and amelioration. Other pillars were financial support, the establishment ofan amelioration fund, and other subsidies. The  final pillar was the education, propagation, and transfer of experience as well as the results of research which took place atthetime. Water cooperatives became necessary tools for the development ofamelioration and irrigation. The  system created, with changes and modifications, was preserved and functioned well intheCzech lands practically speaking until the social changes after 1948. In 1955 a new water law was adopted, the first water management plans were assembled, water cooperatives gradually disappeared and, atthesame time, the United Agricultural Unit (JZD), Machine Tractor Station (STS), and other parts of socialist agriculture were formed. Atthetime, the traditional irrigation of meadows was gradually abandoned and finally disappeared. 

This irrigation, however, represents one ofthemain typological groups of irrigation with a long term history – irrigation ofagricultural land with meadows with fodder for food production. The  method was carried out mainly by basin irrigation using various water supply, distribution, and drainage systems. These are historically the oldest irrigation systems in Europe [1–4], some of which have survived until the present day. In many locations, work has taken place or is taking place to reconstruct the systems and to preserve and protect them as a part of cultural heritage for the future [5, 6]. 

Leibundgut and Kohn [3] present an overview of 116 historical irrigation systems discovered in Europe, from which the majority can be considered meadow irrigation. Geographically this applies in particular to the following countries: Germany, the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, England, Spain [7, 8], Portugal [10], France, and Italy. The  implementation of meadow irrigation was not an exception even in countries where problems with a lack of water would not be expected, such as Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Andorra, Iceland, and even Greenland [2–3]. 

Outside European countries, we can mention thatthemodern development of irrigation systems inthe19th century took place to a great extent intheUnited States ofamerica. It concerned large areas of newly settled western states (e.g. [10]). 

Reasons for installing meadow irrigation systems should be divided according to the altitude ofthegiven area into the following basic zones: high mountainous landscapes, mountainous landscapes, uplands, lowlands, and hilly landscapes (hilly area). In high altitude areas, the need for irrigation was connected with the need to provide fodder and allow vegetation to regrow more quickly than would have been possible under local conditions – irrigation systems in this way allowed the soil to warm up earlier. Inthelowlands, it was necessary to artificially regulate the inflow of water in different vegetation periods, meaning leading it away from the land, e.g. during summer floods, or, on the other hand, bringing in water in late spring. 

A number of irrigation systems were also constructed intheCzech Republic [11, 12]. Many ofthem have been preserved in varying states of disrepair and damage. Nevertheless, some systems with continuously repaired selected technological structures for the distribution of water (sluice gates, culverts) further serve as part ofanti-flood protection systems (typically the Morava river floodplain). Some parts of this functional complex are completely preserved and continuously maintained and serve new purposes. An iconic part ofthehistorical multifunctional complex inthePomoravi region is the Baťa Canal. 

Withinthepractical parts oftheresearch (documentation of historical meadow irrigation systems intheCzech Republic), the following areas and locations were selected on the basis of literature-based research and discussions with experts inthefield and those members ofthepublic who remember such systems: 

  • the Úpa and Metuje rivers basins  
  • the surroundings of Jevíčko and the area of Malá Haná  
  • the Pomoraví region from the surroundings of Chropyně through the Uherské Hradiště and Veselí nad Moravou regions to the Strážnice region. 

Example identification of irrigation structures and objects in historical sources and the current landscape 

The example below ofthesurroundings of Veselí nad Moravou presents the process of digitisation of historical project and map sources (Fig. 1), the result ofthesubsequent field investigation and identification of objects oftheformer irrigation system (Fig. 2), and the determination oftheir current state and purpose (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Example of location processing of individual objects and selected important elements of the irrigation system in the surroundings of Veselí nad Moravou on the basis
of current field investigations (on Fig 2, these are No. 3, 23, 26, 48)

Fig. 4 is an example of information processing about the alignment and location of surface distribution identified from historical documentation. The  source for the analysis ofthealignment ofthechannel network is the Fundamental Base of  Geographic Data oftheCzech Republic (ZABAGED®), mapping the current state ofthelandscape, and preserved project documentation of water management modifications from the mid-1930s. Watercourse alignment from the second military mapping was also used for visualisation. The  analysis shows that not all water distribution channels have been implemented – on Fig. 4, these are marked as “(plan?)”. 

Fig. 4. Location of priority and type-related structures in the Morava river floodplain near Uherský Ostroh, ZABAGED® data

New field mapping and subsequent computer processing technologies that have been tested for documenting the heritage of historic meadow irrigation are presented inthefollowing sub-chapters. 

Possibilities of using the digital terrain model (DTM) to identify irrigation structures and objects 

The fifth generation digital model of relief (DMR 5G) currently provides the most accurate representation oftherelief oftheentire Czech Republic. This is a dataset that was acquired as part ofairborne laser scanning. It is formed by a cloud of points of known height, unevenly placed so that relief representation corresponds to reality as closely as possible. However, it should be noted thattheelevation accuracy oftheDMR 5G dataset is a variable dependent on terrain shape and vegetation. It ranges from a few centimetres in open terrain to decimetres in rugged forested terrain. Despite these inaccuracies, 
the DMR 5G dataset offers suitable possibilities for identifying specific terrain forms. Within this project, the Ratibořice site along the Úpa river was chosen for initial testing of its possible use. 

Relevant map sheets were selected from the DMR 5G dataset and, intheESRI ArcGIS 10.7 environment, they were converted into point layers and then into TIN (Triangulated Irregular Network), which is a plastic DTM. This terrain model was used to transfer the linear layers oftheirrigation systems (from the Research Institute for Soil and Water Conservation application), which made it possible to search for corresponding terrain forms. 

Fig. 5 shows a detail ofthearea near Ratibořice inthevalley oftheÚpa river, where irrigation system elements are demonstrably present. Comparison oftheDTM, basic 1 : 10,000 maps, and aerial imagery demonstrates thattheuse oftheDMR 5G dataset to identify irrigation system elements – or at least parts ofthem – is feasible and will therefore be used to the greatest extent possible during processing ofall pilot sites. 

Fig. 5. Example of differentiation of the remnants of meadow irrigation by furrows and channels in the Úpa river floodplain above Česká Skalice. Demonstration of the use of the TIN DTM at the site to determine the location of the individual parts of the irrigation system: (a) TIN DTM; (b) TIN DTM, indicating the course of the irrigation system (in red); (c) extract of the basic 1 : 10,000 map, indicating the course of the irrigation system; (d) aerial image extract, indicating the course of the irrigation system ZABAGED® data.

DTMs can be used for initial analyses to identify the location of individual elements of former irrigation systems. Given the relatively limited accuracy ofthese data, it is advisable to use photogrammetric data taken by drone for further detailed assessment. 

Detailed spatial information obtained from aerial photogrammetry (UAV) is used for subsequent 3D modelling ofthevirtual form of objects. The  DTM is also used for this purpose. 

The calculation oftheDTM was carried out for selected sites of historically significant irrigation structures and systems in various location: The Břeclav, Hustopeče, Znojmo, and Hodonín regions (southern part ofthePomoraví region); near Chropyně, inthearea of Malá Haná; intheLitoměřice, Poděbrady, Pardubice regions; and in eastern Bohemia inthearea of Česká Skalice – in Ratibořice and intheZnojmo region (Fig. 6). 

Fig. 6. DTM calculation areas for historically significant and documented irrigation sites,
with differentiated irrigation types

DMR 5G data n oftheCzech Office for Surveying, Mapping and Cadastre was used for the calculation. The  input text files were converted to a point layer from which the triangulated irregular network (TIN) was computed (which can be converted to a raster with arbitrary resolution). 

Approaches for preserving and protecting irrigation heritage 

The thematic study by Douet [13], focusing on water management as part of World Heritage, states thatthewater management infrastructure ofthepre-industrial period is relatively well represented on the UNESCO list. This is in contrast to the cultural heritage oftheso-called modern water management ofthe19th and 20th centuries. 

This basically also applies to the representation of historical irrigation systems. From the pre-industrial period, systems of irrigation channels that are registered as part of world cultural heritage are mainly in Middle Eastern countries (Iran, Oman, United Arab Emirates), called aflaj irrigation systems. In addition, there are irrigation systems for rice terraces inthePhilippines, Bali, and China, olive trees and vines in Palestine, and ancient irrigation complexes of various types on the American continent in Mexico, and aqueduct structures that served not only to distribute water for human consumption but also for irrigation. 

This monument type fully fulfils, among others, criterion (v) from the criteria for the identification of World Heritage Sites which are contained intherevised Operational Guidelines for the Implementation oftheWorld Heritage Convention [14]. Based on the support and justification oftheselection criterion (v), sites can be proposed for inclusion that are outstanding examples of traditional human settlement, land-use or sea-use, which is representative of human interaction with the environment. 

In connection with a systematic approach to assessing the heritage significance (or potential) of historic irrigation systems, the approach taken by Spain could be mentioned as one ofthefew using an assessment methodology designed for historic water management structures. The  methodology involves a range of criteria and variables that form the categories of so-called intrinsic value, cultural heritage value, and value of potential and feasibility. This methodological approach has also been used for the evaluation of historical irrigation systems [15, 16], drainage tunnels, and so-called qanats [17]. 

Inthescope of Central Europe, Germany and Austria are countries with long-standing and extensive care for industrial heritage [18–19]. These countries are also one oftheinitiators who try to protect intangible cultural heritage related to traditional practices of maintenance and operation of meadow irrigation. As of 2022, a proposal was made to inscribe these practices onto the UNESCO World Heritage List. 

Regarding the Czech Republic and state heritage preservation and care, represented by the National Heritage Institute, industrial objects are dealt with by the Methodological Centre of Industrial Heritage in Ostrava (MCPD), which was established as part oftheNational Heritage Institute for this purpose. Withintheir methodological activities, the MCPD issues methodological guidelines for the identification, classification, evaluation, and protection of this type of monument [20]. Atthesame time, it carries out continuous extensive research on individual types of technical and industrial structures in various sectors, with the aim of  identifying and documenting significant monument buildings as well as typical examples of important milestones inthetechnological development ofthewater management sector. At present, some objects historically connected with irrigation can also be found among the cultural monuments oftheCzech Republic. These are, in particular, Opatovice Canal and the old pumping station Paseky in Šilheřovice, near Opava. The  entire former irrigation system is practically protected as part oftheextensive area of Babiččino údolí (Granny’s valley) national cultural monument, inthearea oftheRatibořice Chateau near Česká Skalice and the related section oftheÚpa river. Unofficial industrial monuments involve the functioning Baťa Canal, among other things, as part ofthewater distribution system for irrigating meadows inthePomoraví region. 


Irrigation structures were built and operate mostly as part ofa larger or smaller functional complex. Their significance, also from the point of view of potential heritage protection, lies intheidentification and documentation not only of solitary structures but mainly of entire systems/functional complexes with descriptions of interrelationships between them. Independent objects or structures do not need to be particularly exceptional, although their involvement in a wider functional complex can create a uniquely undertaken solution. In this water management field, criteria such as typological value, value of technological flow, authenticity of form and function, value of technological and systemic links with an overlap on agriculture and industry are especially important. Historic irrigation systems can thus acquire significance from the point of view of heritage preservation, even though they usually do not contain traditionally viewed heritage values (architectural, art-historical, and others) either at all or only partially. 


This paper was prepared with financial support of the DG20P02OVV015 project “Irrigation – Newly Discovered Heritage, its Documentation and Popularisation” of the NAKI II programme of the Ministry of Culture.


This paper has been peer reviewed.