To deal with the contradictions that are caused by natural conditions and unreasonable water allocations in Minqin County, which are located downstream of the Shiyang River basin in arid northwest China, an optimization-based multi-scale calculation method was proposed for analyzing agricultural water-saving potential. Firstly, an optimization model was developed for allocating water and land resources legitimately with the conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater. Secondly, the groundwater equilibrium was fully considered in developing optimization model to achieve the ecological value of agricultural water savings. Then, multi-scale agricultural water-saving potentials were analyzed based on optimal results under different water-saving levels. These results provide local water managers with satisfactory economic benefit with higher water use efficiency. With reasonable management strategies of water and land resources, the ecosystem of Minqin County could gradually recover in the future. The results of the multi-scale water-saving potential analysis can help decision makers to identify desired water-saving plans that consider the coordinated development of the local economy, society, and ecology.
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