Community, organizations come together to restore Lake Livingston

Former first lady Laura Bush’s Texan by Nature joins conservation efforts.

COLDSPRING — The young and the elderly. Experts and novices. Professionals and volunteers. That describes all of the people who have rolled up their sleeves to try and restore one of the state’s largest lakes for future generations to enjoy.

Wednesday morning, former first lady Laura Bush saw firsthand the efforts conservationists are making to expand the aquatic habitat at Lake Livingston when agriculture and horticulture students from six high schools planted American water-willows at Wolf Creek Park as part of a project to bring the lake “back to life.”

The goal is to improve the water quality of the lake — the majority of the reservoir is owned by the City of Houston for its water supply — which would in turn enhance fishing and attract more outdoor enthusiasts to help boost the local economy.

“A fine example of a community working together can be found right here at Lake Livingston,” Bush told the invitation-only crowd gathered next to the lake. “Seventy percent of the water in this reservoir is owned by the City of Houston. Your restoration efforts help restore water quality to the lake and provide health benefits to the people of the Greater Houston area. Conservation upstream is valuable for downstream users, especially now in their time of need.

“So I thank you for your tireless efforts to restore the lake, to serve the people of your community and to preserve our natural resources. You are ensuring resilience in the long-term health of our lands.”

Wednesday’s event kicked off a partnership between Texan by Nature, a conservation organization founded by Bush, and the Lake Livingston Friends of Reservoirs. In 2013, the Trinity River Authority and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department approved a 10-year plan to foster natural habitat around the 85,000-acre lake. The plan, developed by Texas Black Bass Unlimited and the Piney Wood Lakes Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, created the Lake Livingston Friends of Reservoirs and had a clear mission: re-establish Lake Livingston as a prime destination for anglers and water enthusiasts by restoring its aquatic habitat.

To help achieve their mission, the Lake Livingston Friends created a community-based, multigenerational volunteer pool that includes the area high school students to retirees in their 80s. This group includes inmate horticulturalists from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Ellis Unit, who are growing healthy water-willows that are being planted all over the lake.

The plants are non-invasive, can serve as a filter for silt and toxins, provide habitat for fish and birds, aid in erosion control and a highly tolerant of drought conditions. Water-willows can also form large colonies, which can revitalize the lake’s shoreline.

The majority of the plants, which so far has resulted in the planting of more than 10,000 water-willows at 18 different sites mostly in the southern portion of Lake Livingston, are being propagated and cared for by offenders in the Lee College horticulture program at the Ellis Unit.

“Lee College was brought onboard about a year ago, and our main objective is the growth of the water-willows,” Lee College horticulture instructor Scooter Langley said. “We  do all the research for them, what soils they need, what fertilizers they need and the propagating. We are the main hub of this plant.”

Lake Livingston Friends of Reservoirs has enlisted the help of students from Coldspring-Oakhurst, Livingston, Onalaska, Big Sandy, Shepherd and Corrigan-Camden high schools. The students are also propagating water-willows in aquatic tanks at school, but on a smaller level.

“Getting community members involved was key to our success,” said Tom McDonough, founder of Lake Livingston Friends of Reservoirs. “Adult volunteers come from multiple organizations, including fisherman, Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, retirees, business people, service organizations that range in age teens to 80s. We are all young at heart, have commitment and dedication or we wouldn’t be here.”