Main content area

Before and After Integrated Catchment Management in a Headwater Catchment: Changes in Water Quality

Hughes, Andrew O., Quinn, John M.
Environmental management 2014 v.54 no.6 pp. 1288-1305
Pinus radiata, Populus, afforestation, beef cattle, business enterprises, grazing, macrophytes, nitrogen fixation, nutrient uptake, periphyton, planting, riparian areas, seepage, shade, sheep, shrubs, streams, subwatersheds, trees, vegetation, water quality, watershed management, weeds, wetlands, New Zealand
Few studies have comprehensively measured the effect on water quality of catchment rehabilitation measures in comparison with baseline conditions. Here we have analyzed water clarity and nutrient concentrations and loads for a 13-year period in a headwater catchment within the western Waikato region, New Zealand. For the first 6 years, the entire catchment was used for hill-country cattle and sheep grazing. An integrated catchment management plan was implemented whereby cattle were excluded from riparian areas, the most degraded land was planted in Pinus radiata, channel banks were planted with poplar trees and the beef cattle enterprise was modified. The removal of cattle from riparian areas without additional riparian planting had a positive and rapid effect on stream water clarity. In contrast, the water clarity decreased in those sub-catchments where livestock was excluded but riparian areas were planted with trees and shrubs. We attribute the decrease in water clarity to a reduction in groundcover vegetation that armors stream banks against preparatory erosion processes. Increases in concentrations of forms of P and N were recorded. These increases were attributed to: (i) the reduction of instream nutrient uptake by macrophytes and periphyton due to increased riparian shading; (ii) uncontrolled growth of a nitrogen fixing weed (gorse) in some parts of the catchment, and (iii) the reduction in the nutrient attenuation capacity of seepage wetlands due to the decrease in their areal coverage in response to afforestation. Our findings highlight the complex nature of the water quality response to catchment rehabilitation measures.