What is the Upper Clutha Catchment?

A catchment is an area which collects rainfall into streams and down into the soil, eventually feeding rivers, lakes and wetlands. The Upper Clutha catchment area covers all water bodies upstream of the confluence of Luggate Creek and the Clutha River, a total area of 4,600 km2. Much of the catchment area is mountainous, providing a multitude of glacier-fed waters.

The headwaters of the Makarora, Matukituki and Wilkin Rivers are in Mount Aspiring National Park. The Makarora and Wilkin Rivers flow into the northern end of Lake Wānaka.

The Matukituki River and its tributary, the Motatapu River, drain into Lake Wānaka’s southwestern edge. The Clutha River drains from Lake Wānaka and is met by major tributaries, the Hawea and Cardrona Rivers and Luggate Creek. Rivers draining into Lake Hawea are the Hunter River at the head, and Dingle Burn and Timaru Creek from the east. These rivers and much of the remaining Lake Hawea catchment are in the Hawea Conservation area. The Hawea River drains Lake Hawea into the Clutha River.

Why is the catchment so important?

While water quality is perceived as being generally good, our waterways are no longer as pristine as they appear and face increasing pressures on five fronts: urbanisation, rural development, tourism growth, climate change and introduction and spread of flora and fauna.  Rapid urban growth offers particular challenges for freshwater management, with vegetation areas that previously absorbed rainwater being replaced by bare or impervious surfaces that direct runoff (and pollutants) into stormwater drains that flow into lakes and rivers. Future growth needs to be better managed to ensure that the combined impact of land use change, more houses, more cars and more people doesn’t automatically lead to degraded water quality.

Our native beech forests, braided rivers, wetlands and glacier-fed lakes are unique ecosystems. They are home to rare birds and fish species. These include Kea, Kakariki, Tom Tit and South Island Robin in the forests, and New Zealand shoveller, Pied Stilt, Black Gulls, Grebes and Black Swans. Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea are home to the Koaro (one of five white bait species ‘at risk’ for extinction), Common Bully and Long Fin Eel (Tuna). The lakes support three introduced gamefish species: Chinook Salmon, Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout.

The concept of ki uta ki tai (from the mountains to the sea) is important in Upper Clutha, given our location at the headwaters of the Clutha River.  Those living and visiting the area have a responsibility to ensure that the water that leaves the catchment is of a high quality, and that problems are not passed on to those downstream.

Freshwater research

University of Otago

/ Catchments Otago

The University of Otago is involved in a number of different research projects including studying lake snow. They are also involved in lakes 380, a five-year research project which aims to understand the environmental history of 380 lakes throughout New Zealand. This project is led by the Cawthron Institute and Geological and Nuclear Sciences.

National Institute of Water

& Atmospheric Research

Completing a research project on water monitoring and reporting is aimed at improving regional data collection for both rivers and lakes, and improving the application of that monitoring data in practical regional water management.

Land Information New Zealand

Working on a ten-year strategy for controlling lagarosiphon weed at Lake Wānaka – largest financial contributor to Lake Wānaka management at present.

Freshwater improvement

Urban run-off research led by Catchments Otago – Marc Schallenberg and Gerry Closs – will include funding for PhD research.  The projects are supported by ORC and funded by Ministry for the Environment, QLDC, Sargood Bequest and Million Metres.

Organisations involved

Otago Regional Council

Responsible for managing Otago’s land, air and water resources on behalf of the community. As well as looking after the environment, they take into account the people of Otago – their economic, cultural and social needs.

Recreational water quality is monitored by the ORC at Roys Bay on Lake Wānaka and at the Lake Hāwea holiday park, with monitoring results published weekly on the LAWA website.

Queenstown Lakes District Council

Responsible for making decisions alongside and on behalf of the people living in the district including: community well-being and development, environmental health and safety, managing infrastructure, facilitating recreation and culture, resource management including land use planning and development control.