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Prof. W. Mioduszewski
Secretary General
Polish National Committee, ICID (POCID)
Institute for Land Reclamation and Grassland Farming
Falenty, 05-090 Raszyn

Tel : +48 22 720 05 31, +48 22 628 37 63
Email : w.mioduszewski@imuz.edu.pl, imuz@imuz.edu.pl

Links of Interest
ICID Strategy for Implementing Sector Vision - Water for Food and Rural Development and Country Position Papers, 2000

ICID – Irrigation & Drainage in the World – A Global Review

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1. Physiography

With a total surface area of 312 700 km2 Poland ranks among Europe's large countries, divided into 16 voivodships and 2 459 communes. It lies in Central Europe in the drainage basins of the Vistula and the Oder (Odra) river, in the Lowland zone, between the Baltic Sea and Carpathian Mountains. Poland is more or less square-shaped country stretching from Mt. Opotonek in the south (49º latitude north) to the Rozewie headland in the north (54º50' latitude north). Its westernmost and easternmost points lie at 14º07' and 24º08' east longitude. Poland's location in the middle latitudes determines its climate, vegetation, soils etc. Poland is bound in the north by the Baltic Sea and Russia, sharing borders with Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine in the east, Czech and Slovak Republics in the south and Germany in the west

The average height of the country is 173 m +MSL, the lowest when compared with the Europe's average of 330 m +MSL. Nearly 91.3% of its area lies in the lowland zone; while uplands and mountainous areas account for 7.7%, and 1% of its territory, respectively. The lowlands are hilly in character shaped by the activity of continental glaciers (lake districts in the northern part of the country); true plains are only found in central Poland.

2. Climate and Rainfall

Poland's climate is moderate in between the maritime and continental climates, lying in the zone of atmospheric fronts. This result in fairly wet and mild winters, with average monthly temperature of around 0°C, or heavy and dry winters, with average monthly temperature of -10°C. A similar variation in air temperatures and precipitation occurs in the summer season, especially during the vegetation period. Hot and dry summers (with less than 20 mm of rainfall in June, July and August) may alternate with cold and wet summers with a monthly rainfall up to 150 or even 200 mm.

Annual isotherms range between 6.5°C and 8.5°C; average temperatures in January and June temperatures range from - 1 °C to - 5 °C, 17°C to 19°C, respectively. In the lowland region the vegetation season with average temperature of over 5°C lasts from 190 to 220 days.

Average annual rainfall is 583 mm ranging between 500-600 mm in most regions of the country. In smaller areas in the uplands and the mountains along its southern border the annual rainfall may reach as much as 800 - 1500 mm; Central Poland receives 450 - 550 mm, the coastal zone 500 - 600 mm. Two-thirds of annual rainfall occurs in the summer. Snow accounts for two thirds of winter (December - March) precipitation.

Crops cultivated in Poland in general do not require irrigation during the growing season. However, in areas of light soil the dry spells may occur leading to substantial losses in yields. Preventive measures include cultivation of suitable crops and appropriate crop rotation; improvement of water conditions is achieved by raising water retention in the soil profile. Nevertheless, irrigation in areas of light soil appears to be necessary, especially in areas sown with valuable crops.

In contrast, areas with heavier soils require draining especially in the spring, in places where the groundwater level does not subside sufficiently early, which has an adverse effect on yields.

3. Population and Size of Farm Holdings

With over 38 million inhabitants and population density at 119 people/km² Poland is one of the most populated countries in Europe. Some 30% of the population live in rural areas living on agriculture.

The prevailing form of ownership of the land is private property. Until 1989 roughly 25% of the land was under a system of state farms most of which were dismantled following the political transition of 1989.

Farm holdings vary widely in terms of size. The relevant figures for 1999 were as follows:

Area of farm holding
Percentage of all farm holdings
Less than 1 hectare
1 - 5 ha
5 - 10 ha
Over 10 ha

A visible tendency towards smaller farm holdings is noticeable in recent years in favour of larger holdings with an area of 20 - 50 hectares, stimulated by government policy.

Crop structure is as follows: cereals - over 51%, potatoes - 12.9%, industrial crops - ca 7.2% of all arable land. Wheat is the main cereal crop, at 2.43 million ha, followed by barley and oats, at 1.23 and 0.67 million hectares. The area under wheat and barley is steadily increasing while an opposite tendency is registered for sugar beet, potatoes and oil plants.

4. Land Resources

The total land area of Poland is 30,450,000 ha. The two main forms of land use are agriculture and forestry. Farmland and forests jointly occupy nearly 88% of Poland's territory. Farmland, accounts for 60.1% that includes arable land and permanent grassland, at 14,829,000 and 3,891,00 hectares respectively.

The area of farmland is steadily shrinking. Since 1979 it decreased by 1,786,000 ha to 18,784,000 ha in 1997. This decline, coupled with population increase, has led to the decrease in the per capita acreage of farmland: from 0.54 ha per person in 1980 to only 0.45 ha in 1997.

Permanent grassland, including permanent meadows and pasture, occupy about 3,900,000 ha, or 12.5% of the territory .

Meadows are largely non-natural, resulting from clearing of riverside forest or conversion of former ploughland into grassland. Natural concentrations of meadows occur only locally, mainly in the mountains.

Peatlands are found in many river valleys and lowland areas. Most of them were drained and converted into grassland (Table 1). Despite this, peatlands still retain many natural values and need protection. This presents a challenge to agriculture and management of drainage irrigation systems.

Table 1. Utilisation of peat bogs

Type of utilization
Acreage (thousand ha)
Share (%)
Peat bogs in natural state
Former peat bogs (with adjoining areas)
Protected peat bogs
Extraction area

Poland's has over 8,000 lakes of over 1 ha in areas, mostly of glacial origin. The largest number of lakes are found in the Pomeranian and Masurian Lake Districts.

Acerage occupied by surface waters in 1997 was 826,000 ha or 2.6% of area. In comparison to 1980, this increase resulted from the construction of several new reservoirs. Some of them were built for irrigation purposes.

Other forms of land use i.e. areas of development, and wasteland account for 6.0%. All of these forms of land use show a growing trend.

Poland has many different soils. Sandy formations (20% of particles less than 0.2mm in diameter) occupy about 50 % of the total area. Appropriate agrotechnical and land reclamation (water conservation) measures are necessary for the improvement of these soils. The main type of soils include swampy boulder loam, organogenic soils developed on peat, alluvial soils, silty and loess formations.

It is thought that reclamation measures are indispensable. Both draining and irrigation measures have to be considered.

The quality of Poland's soil is generally fairly low. Only about 23% of arable soils may be considered good or very good (classes I - IIIb), while poorest soils (classes V - VI) account for over 30%. Soil classification in grasslands is even less favourable: class I - III soils account for only about 15%, class IV soils - for 38%, while class V - VI soils are most widespread, accounting for as much as 47% of total area of grassland.

In some of the regions of the country, particularly in the south and southwest, the soils have suffered extensive chemical degradation due to excessive accumulation of trace elements in surface layers.

About 4% of farmland contains higher amounts of heavy metals. This may be qualified as slight contamination. The total acreage of farmland classified as chemically degraded (in a varying degree) is about 150,000 ha, i.e., less than 1% of the total area.

Despite the development of agriculture and industry Poland still retains many areas valuable for nature. Of special value are wetland areas characterised by high biodiversity. A part of them has been drained and is used extensively for agriculture as low yield meadows and pasture. Extensive areas are under legal protection. Some restrictions in agricultural use have likewise been introduced in areas of infiltration, important for the recharging of aquifers and in areas of drainage basins of particular importance for good water quality in rivers.

5. Water Resources

Poland is one of European countries with quite limited water resources. Average surface flow is 5l/s/km2. Renewable resources of surface water, i.e., mean annual outflow from the area of Poland, is 1580 m3 per capita as compared to the European index of 4560 m3. To make things worse Poland's poor water resources are substantially variable in time and space.

In Poland's climatic conditions peak flows in rivers occur in spring while lowest levels are recorded in autumn and winter. The ratio between the maximum and the minimum average monthly outflow from the area of Poland is about 2.3, while it is considerably higher for some rivers reaching double digit figures in mountain streams and smaller lowland rivers. Momentary flows vary even more. Precipitation is similarly unevenly distributed in space and time. Average annual precipitation in Poland is around 600 mm but in some years it may fall below 400 mm or exceed 800 mm.

It is estimated that floods in the Vistula catchment area occur on the average every 5 years as compared to every 7 - 10 years in the Odra catchment. The last great flood occurred in the Odra basin in July 1997 causing incalculable economic and social losses. At the same time many regions of the country suffer from severe atmospheric, hydrological or soil drought leading to serious losses for the national economy, and in particular for agriculture. It has been estimated that the drought of 1992 which affected almost the entire territory of Poland caused at least 20% decrease in yields.

Agriculture poses a threat to the quality of surface- and groundwater. Substances are eroded from farmland and leach into waters, mainly, organic matter, phosphorus and nitrogen compounds from artificial and organic fertiliser used in agriculture, toxic substances originating from herbicides and insecticides used in agriculture and forestry. It is estimated that over 50% of the nitrogen load and 40% of the phosphorus compound load in water runoff comes from agriculture.

Yearly water intake has been steadily increasing in volume over the last several decades reaching 15 km³ in late 1970s. In the 1980s it levelled off due to economic recession even decreasing slightly early in the 1990s (Table 2).

Table 2. Water intake for economic requirements [km3/year]

Total, including:
Municipal economy
Agriculture and forestry

6. Brief History of Irrigation and Drainage

The first hydraulic projects for agricultural purposes were undertaken in Poland during the Middle Ages. Embankments were built to protect lowland areas against flooding and ditches were constructed to drain water from swampy areas. Annually, over 200 thousand hectares of agricultural land were drained for some years, as may be seen from Table 3.

Table 3. Average area drained annually in Poland

The area drained (hectares per year)
1951 - 1955
95 000
1956 - 1960
102 000
1961 - 1965
245 000
1966 - 1970
260 000
1971 - 1975
205 000
1976 - 1980
120 000
1981 - 1985
72 000
1986 - 1990
102 000
1991 - 1995
20 000

Nowadays reclamation of new land has practically stopped. Not more than 10 000 hectares of arable land is annually drained at present. Drainage in river valleys has ceased. Most of the reclamation projects undertaken are associated with the reconstruction of irrigation systems, construction of water reservoirs or weirs to increase the water level in some rivers.

Agriculture development plans foresee that some 2 mln hectares of farmland will be taken out from agricultural production. This applies mainly to poor soils or river valleys of high nature value. It is estimated that some 10% of irrigation-drainage systems will be dismantled. Consequently, no larger irrigation or drainage projects are planned for construction in the coming years.

Irrigation is carried out in smaller areas, mainly in orchards and in vegetable gardens. At the same time action is being taken to renaturalize a part of the drained river valleys and introduce solutions designed to increase retention capacity, some of it is targeted on water conservation.

ICID and Poland

Poland joined ICID in 1957 and has been actively associated with ICID activities in Poland as well as at the international level. 21st European Regional Conference will be held in Germany and Poland in 2005. Poland has its membership in one ICID workbody. At present, Prof. W. Mioduszewski is the Secretary General of POCID.

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