Long an exceptional fresh water fishery and a haven for ducks, wading birds and other wildlife, Lake Livingston is nearly 60 years old. It has lost much of its aquatic habitat and the water quality has declined. Once a destination for bass anglers, there has seen a precipitous decline in angling activity. Recreation on Lake Livingston is a major economic engine for numerous surrounding communities and the decline in the fishery has negatively affected local revenues.
Friends of Lake Livingston is restoring habitat for fish and wildlife populations by adding aquatic and riparian plants to create feeding and breeding grounds and reducing erosion!
The long-term goal of the project is to increase the abundance and diversity of native aquatic plant species and riparian habitat in and around Lake Livingston, TX, thereby improving littoral habitat conditions for the fish community and other aquatic life. Texas Parks & Wildlife has proposed that a successful restoration will need to cover 5% – (4,250 acres) of the lake and/or shoreline habitat.
What FOR is Doing
Multi-species aquatic plant propagation and lake introduction including American Water Willow, Bulrush, American Pondweed , Hyssop, and Lilies has been underway now for over 3 years. Single species (American water willows since 2014). Applying RFHP principles, founder colonies have been established in several locations and are now part of our planting process to provide initial protection against herbivory actions for all new sites.
Volunteer Propagation and Plant introduction by the local community has been in place since the project started in 2013 with help from FOR and Texas Parks & Wildlife, and continues today albeit with significant challenges due to the COVID pandemic that began in early 2020. Of note, our adult volunteers have not been allowed on any campus at our 8 high schools since March of 2020 through May 2021.
We continue to work with several entities including 8 local high schools (including ecology education outreach and the Texas Dept. of Corrections Ellis Unit horticulture class (including ecology education outreach). This prison unit is used as an initial plant propagation site after which plants are transferred to the high school groups for further growth. We also work with several other community groups including Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, local Bass Clubs, Rotary Clubs, and the Livingston, TX Chambers of Commerce.
Our process at the 8 local high schools includes yearly ecology education, propagation of aquatic plant species on campus and later introduction of their own plants at selected sites in Lake Livingston. Part of the instruction now includes Invertebrate monitoring at their planting sites as an indication of water quality.
Site monitoring of all of our planted sites occurs yearly in collaboration with our TPWD (Texas Parks & Wildlife) sponsor. Our last survey of planted sites occurred in 2020 and showed some sites that were no longer present and some that were surprisingly successful in expansion. Additionally, all sites that used fencing and founder colony concepts continued to be highly successful and were expanding despite several flooding events.
Riparian Restoration continues to be a permanent addition to our strategy albeit in smaller quantities. At any new site, we constantly add shoreline stabilization plants including buttonbush, river birch and cypress trees.
Georgia Cube construction for artificial reef habitat began in 2019 as an additional effort by the high schools at a large planting. 7 were introduced at two sites in early 2020. Additionally, 3 Mossback Trophy Reefs were introduced in early 2019. The Trinity River Authority in Livingston, TX helps with site selection and placement of these habitats.
After receipt of a Mossback grant in 2020, Friends of Lake Livingston ordered several new near-shore reefs for further placement. The Trinity River Authority (co-sponsor for FoLL), placed an additional monetary order for more near shore reefs from Mossback to significantly expand that effort. In collaboration with the TRA, those reefs will be put in Lake Livingston this fall (2021).
A new project effort was added in 2021 based on input from one of our TPWD advisors. “Floating Islands” were established formally as a Friends of Lake Livingston “research project”. We believe this floating island concept will expand our efforts to improve water quality and should create additional terrestrial habitat for fish and aquatic life in Lake Livingston. It also has the potential to expand our potential planting areas.
Floating islands encourage plant growth above and below the surface of the water, promoting biofilm growth and mimicking how natural wetlands purify water. Unlike shoreline plantings areas, they are not affected by changes in water levels, foraging wildlife (except Nutria), or winter freezes (unless the water source freezes).
There are numerous governmental and nonprofit projects throughout the world utilizing this technology to clean up polluted and hazardous water systems. Also, many game fish groups have utilized them to create spawning areas for Bass.
Our floating island project is in its test phase. In June 2021 we launched the first official island (Biohaven commercially produced island) and we planted the artificial island with water willows grown by Onalaska High School students. The plants are doing very well, gaining height and leaf growth. Not only have the plants thrived, the float itself has sustained heavy rains as well as constant boat and jet ski traffic without any issues.
At this point the root systems of the water willows have not extended through the island into the water, however; information from similar projects indicates that this is common in the first few months of the islands.
Along with the Biohaven island, we have researched other island designs and are testing several DIY designs found on YouTube to reduce cost if we go forward with more construction. The water willows planted on these islands are doing well.
By monitoring the current islands, testing several other designs and several other plant varieties, we hope to find an economical and effective way to add aquatic life in areas of the lake where traditional shoreline planting is not feasible.
Expected outcomes continue to include significant gains in establishing and accelerating aquatic habitat in both calm and more wave prone areas, improvement of water quality in near shore planted environments, improvement of invertebrate activity in planted sites (water quality indicator), provide more cover for sport fishing habitat, better capture of sediments and reduction of shoreline erosion and subsequent lake sedimentation by riparian habitat restoration.
Addition of Georgia Cube artificial reef construction along with the newly acquired Mossback nearshore reef structures adds immediate habitat structure. This effort started in 2019 at our high school planting (construction by students) and was well received by Texas Parks & Wildlife, the Trinity River Authority and the local fishing community. GPS coordinates of ALL introduced reef habitats were placed on the TPWD website for Lake Livingston.
As a separate outcome of the artificial reef habitat efforts, the Trinity River Authority (TRA) acquired leftover Christmas tree’s from local stores in the Livingston, Tx area. In January 2021, 80 discarded Christmas tree’s were weighted down and placed in Lake Livingston by FoLL and TRA volunteers.
Finally, as a means to improve the project during this time of “treading water” during the covid pandemic, we have worked to strengthen our leadership team. We have brought in several new adult volunteers who have taken on new roles for organizing upcoming high school instruction and a new team lead for communication to take over our website and Facebook updates for the community and project.