A water catchment is an area of land and the water that collects and moves through it. Catchments can be really big – like the Waikato River catchment – or very small – like a small wetland on someone’s property.
Use the following resources to learn about catchments.
- Water catchments
- Waikato River ecology and biodiversity
- Planning for change
- Te whakamāherehere i ngā panonitanga
This Rivers and Us resource is in a downloadable PDF format.
A catchment is shaped by topography. So imagine a basin, and it’s everything that falls within that basin, that steep sides that flows towards that water body. But it’s not just necessarily rainfall. A catchment will have groundwater and surface water sources.
Groundwater is the water that exists underground in the spaces of soils and rocks. It’s much like water fills a sponge, it’s the water that exists in the pores. And some groundwater is pumped above ground for irrigation or drinking water. Everything that happens on the ground can impact the groundwater.
The easiest way to define a catchment is an area where any rainfall in that area all flows into a water source, so whether that be a river, a stream, a lake or a wetland. So catchments can be really variable in size. They can be massive, for example, the Waikato River catchment, or they can be really small, for example, a small wetland on someone’s property. There’ll be hundreds or thousands of catchments across the Waikato region.
To map catchments, you can start at the mouth where your stream discharges and work your way back up by looking on a map. And catchments tend to be bounded by things like mountain ridges or forests. So you can actually look on a map and trace your streams from the mouth up to the source. So a headwater is the source of the stream. That is where the stream starts from and then the water flows down the river and ends up in the lowlands – and that’s low-elevation waterways, and those waters tend to be warmer, slow flowing and more full of nutrients or sediment because they’ve flown quite a long distance through the land, whereas headwaters at the source tend to be more clearer, cooler and faster flowing.
Catchments are really important for water quality. Every activity that’s happening in that area – whether it be related to water, soil or air – is going to impact upon the water quality further downstream, whether that’s good or bad.
Dr Eloise Ryan
Waikato Regional Council
Catchment diagram by Phil Jones, New Zealand Landcare Trust
Stream footage: Dairy NZ
Healthy Farms Healthy Rivers and Waikato Regional Council
This video has been developed in partnership with the Waikato Regional Council as part of the Rivers and Us resource.