catchment area or drainage basin, area drained by a stream or other body of water. The limits of a given catchment area are the heights of land—often called drainage divides, or watersheds—separating it from neighboring drainage systems. The amount of water reaching the river, reservoir, or lake from its catchment area depends on the size of the area, the amount of precipitation, and the loss through evaporation (determined by temperature, winds, and other factors and varying with the season) and through absorption by the earth or by vegetation; absorption is greater when the soil or rock is permeable than when it is impermeable. A permeable layer over an impermeable layer may act as a natural reservoir, supplying the river or lake in very dry seasons. The catchment area is one of the primary considerations in the planning of a reservoir for water-supply purposes.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.