Leeds University

Innovation catchment

Adel Beck, Leeds by Richard Cruise

A catchment, sometimes also called a drainage basin or watershed, is an area of land that drains to a common outlet (from a stream up to an estuary).

Understanding the flow of water through a catchment is important in determining, for example, the likelihood of floods or droughts; availability of water resources for drinking water abstraction, irrigation or energy production; impact of pollution events; and functioning of environmental processes (e.g. salmon spawning). Surface water interacts with soils, groundwater, and different land use patterns that affect water quantity and quality - and creates feedback loops that impact on how land can be used and what crops can be grown. 

An event in one part of a catchment can lead to impacts elsewhere in the catchment: a cloud burst in the upper reaches of a catchment might lead to a flood event downstream or a pollution event on a small tributary might affect the main channel. The impacts are not only confined to the aquatic environment or water cycle: changing rural and urban land management practices (from different crop covers to sealing permeable surfaces) have considerable influence on water quantity and quality in a catchment.

By monitoring a catchment, from source to sea, the key features that determine the flow of water through a catchment can be better identified and the necessary management practices needed to meet the frequently complex demands placed on catchments can be better understood. It isn't only the surface water that can be monitored, it is the soil, groundwater and land management practices also that need to be studied to fully understand the catchment. It is also an opportunity to use innovative monitoring techniques that can be used for training and demonstration purposes.

More information can be found on the following webpages:

water@leeds Aire-Calder innovation catchment

Challenges and insights

Real-time river level data from Environment Agency monitoring stations 

Image from within the Aire catchment, courtesy of Richard Cruise