Four Decades of Conserving Native Fish in the Colorado River Watershed, Texas
Stephan J. Magnelia, Kevin B. Mayes, Megan G. Bean, Cindy L. Loeffler, and David D. Bradsby
Abstract.—The Colorado River of Texas originates in the northwest portion of the state and runs southeasterly across the environmentally sensitive Edwards Plateau ecoregion, eventually emptying into Matagorda Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and other conservation partners have worked for decades to conserve native fishes in the river and its associated estuary. The river and its tributaries are also the major water source for millions of people, and portions of the watershed are undergoing unprecedented human population growth and a concomitant increased demand for water. Drought, which is a frequent occurrence in Texas, exacerbates these effects. Providing adequate streamflow and water quality to conserve aquatic species while still fulfilling obligations for municipal, industrial, agricultural, hydropower, and recreational water use is increasingly challenging. Since the 1980s, the TPWD has promoted water management policies in the watershed to benefit aquatic life, conducted research to maintain a sound ecological environment for fish and other aquatic taxa, provided technical guidance and financial incentives to private landowners to improve land practices that benefit water quality and quantity, and improved public access to foster increased stewardship of the river. The TPWD has also collaborated with researchers to study the potential impacts of altered hydrology on two endemic, flow-dependent fish species, Guadalupe Bass Micropterus treculii and Blue Sucker Cycleptus elongatus. Two portions of the Colorado River watershed have been identified as native fish conservation areas in part for persistence of populations of these native fishes. Outcomes from these activities are now being leveraged using federally funded research and conservation delivery programs to further advance the conservation of native fish populations and other aquatic life in native fish conservation areas of the Colorado River watershed.