Instream Flow Restoration and Watershed Conservation in the Cypress Basin, Texas
Ryan Smith, Joe Trungale, Rick Lowerre, Tom Hayes, Mike Montagne, Tim Bister, Laura-Ashley Overdyke, and Marcia Hackett
Abstract.—Caddo Lake, along with its swamps and tributary bayous, supports a diversity of aquatic ecosystems and has been designated a wetland of global significance by the Ramsar Convention. The life blood of Caddo Lake is the network of tributary creeks and bayous that drain into the wetland complex of the lake’s upper reaches. The ecology of the main tributary, Big Cypress Bayou, however, has been altered by flow regulation by Lake O’ the Pines dam. Additional threats from giant salvinia Salvinia molesta and other invasive plants, water quality impacts, and land uses have added stress to the ecosystem. Several conservation organizations, led by the Caddo Lake Institute, have formed partnerships to address these threats to the watershed. The Sustainable Rivers Program, a partnership of The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), has managed dam operations to enhance the natural ecology of Big Cypress Bayou and Caddo Lake downstream. The Corps has been releasing recommended flows to allow researchers to gather more information to evaluate the success of restoration efforts. Early monitoring results indicate a potential positive response of the fish community to these flow releases. We present results of flow restoration work and associated ecological monitoring. We also summarize floodplain vegetation monitoring, paddlefish restoration and invasive species management projects in Caddo Lake and the Cypress River basin.