Skip to main content

Managing our region’s rivers and catchments

The Waikato region has more than 16,000 kilometres of rivers and streams.

These waterways have changed dramatically since European settlement. They’ve been dammed, had water pumped out or diverted, waste discharged into them, and exotic plants and animals introduced. Much of the native vegetation that would have once slowed the flow of water from hillsides and helped to hold hillsides together, has been cleared for agriculture, forestry and urban development.

These changes have all contributed to increased flooding and erosion in our region. And flooding and erosion threaten people and property, access ways and communication channels, and limit land productivity.

Stream and river stability, soil stability and flooding are influenced by natural events and processes and people’s activities over an entire catchment.  Well-managed catchments help minimise erosion and flooding, and benefit our region’s environment and economy.

Photo of Waikato RiverWhat Waikato Regional Council does

Waikato Regional Council is responsible for the overall management of the region's rivers and their catchments, including the effects of flooding and erosion.  We do this in partnership with local communities.

We have three main work programmes:

  • land management and soil conservation
  • river management
  • flood control and managment.

In the zone

We've divided the region up into the eight catchment management zones, for service delivery. Zone management plans (ZMPs) are the primary tools for implementation of all river and catchment management activities within each zone. Each ZMP includes the following details:

  • vision for the zone
  • strategy to achieve the vision
  • activities to implement the strategy
  • set of services levels and performance standards for the activities
  • financial strategies and funding arrangments.

Land management and soil conservation works (often refered to as catchment management)

We give advice about land management to promote best farm and property management practices, including appropriate land use, stream protection, erosion control and soil conservation. Soil conservation works help to minimise erosion on hill slopes and along river and stream banks. They include retiring erosion-prone land from grazing, constructing debris dams and erosion control structures.

River management

A river’s flow and course can be affected by bank erosion and the build up of debris, silt or gravel. River management works help to keep rivers flowing on course, and include:

  • protecting and stabilising riverbanks, through fencing and planting and coordination of works along river banks
  • controlling bank erosion, for example by using rock protection, groynes or other riverbank stabilisation works
  • removing blockages
  • undertaking river training works - ensuring the flow paths of rivers are kept on course
  • undertaking gravel and sand management.

If you’ve got a river flowing through your property, find out about your responsibilities as a landowner in our River Management Guidelines.

Flood control and management

Waikato Regional Council is responsible for the provision and maintenance of the major flood control schemes throughout the greater Waikato region. Some of these areas are managed in conjunction with district councils. The schemes include large-scale works that aim to reduce flood risks such as, stopbanks, pump stations, floodgates and detention dams. Read more about how we manage these and other assets.

Waikato Regional Council also operates a flood warning system, monitoring river levels and rainfall at over 50 automated recording sites. This enables us to warn land owners when our system alerts are activated by heavy rainfall and rising river levels.

Effects of integrated catchment management (ICM)

Social and economic

Our major schemes’ areas are prone to flooding from three different sources. These are the sea, the Waikato, Waihou and Piako Rivers and their tributaries as well as run off from local catchments. The effects of soil erosion and flooding can be severe, affecting land stability, water quality and land productivity, and ultimately the well-being of the zone communities.

ICM services provide our region's communities with security and peace of mind, creating social and economic stability within the zones.


The schemes recognise in their design the importance of the key existing environmental features of the Waikato, Piako and Waihou catchment ecosystems. However, drainage and flood protection works have historically had some significant effects on the environment. While the overall impact is positive, the negative effects can not be ignored. These negative effects included reduction of flood plains, wetland areas and associated effects on habitat values.

Currently, best practice environmental guidelines are being developed and adopted for ICM activities. The objective is to progressively enhance and protect the environment from further deterioration while maintaining the benefits of the catchment, river and drainage services.


Most ICM activities are carried within the river systems' environment, which have significant cultural and spiritual values to Māori and to the zone communities as a whole. The current service delivery approach is to avoid and/or minimise the effects on cultural values.