AbstractAutomatic canal control is essential to improve water utilization efficiency in irrigation districts. Water level error in the model used by the control algorithm significantly impacts performance. The integrator delay model, which has a linear structure, is widely used in multi-input/multioutput control algorithms, including linear-quadratic control and model predictive control. However, the integrator delay model is suboptimal for large irrigation districts; the canals are long, the flows are large, there are many scattered offtakes, and the operating conditions vary. We developed an adaptive predictive control mode for the Qinhan Canal in Ningxia Province, China. We used a segment integrator delay model for this large irrigation district and employed a differential evolution algorithm for online system identification; this minimizes error. We analyzed and controlled for various uncertainties (i.e., flow observation noise, geometric and hydraulic parameter errors, and accidental interference with the automatic control system). Simulations indicated that the water level fitting errors were significantly reduced compared with the original model, and water level regulation was significantly improved, especially in terms of the maximum absolute error. Adaptive predictive control was better than linear-quadratic control and model predictive control approach for water level. Adaptive predictive control coped well with several uncertainties. The main factors affecting water level control were the flow observation and gate opening control accuracy, and the extent of real-time data coverage. These features require careful attention when automating and modernizing irrigation districts.