Water scarcity threatens the sustainability of irrigated agriculture in semi-arid regions, and ridge-furrow planting systems (RFPS) can be a prospective rainwater harvesting approach. In this study, we aimed to develop a promising water-saving strategy to boost maize productivity and water use efficiency (WUE). In 2017, we carried out a field experiment to study the effects of various RFPS with multiple irrigation levels on the yield-water relationship of maize (Zea mays
L.). Eleven treatments were set up: RFPS with film mulching on both ridges and furrows and without water supply after seed emergence, abbreviated as QF; RFPS with film mulching on continuous ridges, abbreviated as MD, including SMD, MMD, and LMD (S, M, and L—three water supply (irrigation plus precipitation) levels of 650 mm, 500 mm, and 350 mm during the whole growing season); RFPS without film mulching, abbreviated as DD, including SDD, MDD, and LDD; conventional flat planting with no film mulching, abbreviated as GG, including SGG, MGG, and LGG; localized full irrigation (actual amount of irrigation excessively exceeding the quantity needed), abbreviated as NM. A positive linear relationship (R2
= 0.95–1), a quadratic curve, and a negative linear relationship were observed between the irrigation water level and actual crop evapotranspiration (ETc
), grain yield, and WUE, respectively. The ETc
of QF (292 mm) was substantially lower than that of the other treatments (p
< 0.01), saving 649 mm of irrigation water and increasing the yield by 2.24% compared with those of NM. Meanwhile, the WUE and irrigation water use efficiency (IWUE) of QF reached maximums of 6.3 and 47.36 kg m−3
, respectively, which were significantly higher than those of other treatments (p
< 0.001). The results showed that planting in an RFPS with film mulching on both ridges and furrows (a ridge-to-furrow ratio of 50:30, with a 38 mm irrigation level) is suitable for maize to obtain high yield and reduce irrigation water use significantly.