Water management in Angkor: human impacts on hydrology and sediment transportation

J Environ Manage. 2009 Mar;90(3):1413-21. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2008.08.007. Epub 2008 Oct 15.


The city of Angkor, capital of the Khmer empire from the 9th to 15th century CE, is well known for its impressive temples, but recent research has uncovered an extensive channel network stretching across over 1000 km2. The channel network with large reservoirs (termed baray) formed the structure of the city and was the basis for its water management. The annual long dry season associated with the monsoon climate has challenged water management for centuries, and the extensive water management system must have played an important role in the mitigation of such marked seasonality. However, by changing the natural water courses with off-take channels the original catchments were also reshaped. Moreover, severe problems of erosion and sedimentation in human built channels evolved and impacted on the whole water management system. This paper describes the present hydrology of the area and discusses the impacts of water management on hydrology during the Angkor era. The paper, moreover, attempts to summarise lessons that could be learnt from Angkorian water management that might apply to present challenges within the field.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cambodia
  • Ecosystem
  • Geologic Sediments*
  • History, Medieval
  • Human Activities
  • Rain
  • Seasons
  • Waste Management / history
  • Waste Management / methods*
  • Water Supply / history*
  • Water Supply / standards*