By Clayton ChurchMarch 19, 2014
FORT WORTH, Texas - "That's a scary looking thing!" said Anita Branch, senior geotechnical engineer with the Dam Safety Production Center in Tulsa, Okla., after viewing pictures in an article about reintroducing paddlefish into the Big Cypress Bayou Watershed upstream of Caddo Lake. It's known as the only natural formed major lake in Texas even though it straddles the Texas-Louisiana state line and has a dam controlled by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Vicksburg District in Mississippi.
Forty-seven paddlefish were released on a cold afternoon in early March. The plyodon spathula are a threatened species in Texas. The releases are part of a study and project that are a result of more than a decade of Corps of Engineers co-funded work efforts in the watershed with the City of Jefferson as the non-federal sponsor.
"Roughly 1,800 linear feet of in-stream gravel bars were placed in the Big Cypress Bayou below Lake O' the Pines as part of the Big Cypress Bayou Fish and Wildlife Habitat Restoration Section 1135 project," said Senior Environmental Planner with the Fort Worth District Marcia Hackett. "The project seeks to restore spawning and nursery habitat for multiple aquatic species, including the paddlefish, which had been lost to the river system as the result of the construction and impoundment of Lake O' the Pines."
Hackett said early science, research, data collection, and modeling efforts undertaken as part of the Cypress Bayou Cross Sections Planning Assistance to States study led to development of a set of environmental flow criteria for the watershed that were ultimately submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for approval as part of Senate Bill 3 environmental flows legislation.
"The paddlefish experiment is part of a larger five-year project with the Corps and the Northeast Texas Municipal Water District to provide increased diversity to how water is released from Lake O' the Pines to help meet the e-flow criteria and ecological needs of the downstream floodplain and river system," said Hackett.
Caddo Lake Institute President Richard Lowerre said it is a big deal to have land owners like Bob Sanders and others to let us on their land. "We are realizing that with increasing competition for water resources, we need to understand how these water systems work to determine how we can make the best use of what we have," said Lowerre.
The fish were common in Big Cypress Bayou and Caddo Lake until the mid-1900s according to a brochure produced by the Caddo Lake Institute. The brochure explains that each two-to three-foot long fish will have an implanted radio transmitter. Radio signals will be unique, tracked by towers placed along the watershed.
The Paddlefish Project is important to the ecology of Caddo Lake and Big Cypress Bayou and can be a boon to the region's tourism economy. An educational component will include teacher professional development, middle and high school student activities and curricula, and adult volunteer opportunities. Schools, scout troops, and other groups will be invited to adopt and track their own paddlefish to learn about its movement and habitat. As part of the experiment, you can follow the paddlefish on caddolakeinstitute.us/paddlefish_prject.html.