Severe iodine deficiency still occurs in many countries, and causes cretinism and mental impairment. In southern Xinjiang province, China, after usual methods of iodine supplementation had failed, we iodinated irrigation water to increase iodine in soil, crops, animals, and human beings. 5% potassium iodate solution, dripped into an irrigation canal for 12 or 24 days, increased soil iodine 3-fold, and crop and animal iodine 2-fold. Median urinary iodine excretion in children increased from 18 to 49 micrograms/L (two groups of similar age). The cost for iodine was US $0.05 per person per year. Soil iodine remained stable over one winter, and dripping of iodine during the second year (US $0.12 per person per year) resulted in a further 4-fold increase in soil iodine and a 1.8-fold increase in iodine in crops. We conclude that iodination of irrigation water is an advantageous and cost-effective method of supplying iodine in southern Xinjiang, and may be useful in other areas dependent on irrigation.