Conservation Wrangler Update: Friends of Lake Livingston

Friends of Lake Livingston (FoLL) was selected as a Conservation Wrangler 2017 for restoring the aquatic habitat in Lake Livingston to create a healthier ecosystem and a prime destination for anglers and water enthusiasts.

Photo by Grant Miller

Lake Livingston is the second largest lake in Texas, created in 1971 to provide most of Houston’s water. Due to the overuse of shore bulkheads and past management practices, the lake had lost the majority of its aquatic plant life. Consequences of these practices resulted in loss of quality shoreline habitat, increased shore erosion and siltation, and reduced water quality. The loss of native vegetation also exposes the lake to infestation by invasive foreign plants.

In 2013, the Trinity River Authority and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) approved a plan to foster natural habitat around 85,000-acre Lake Livingston. The plan, developed by the Texas Black Bass Unlimited and the Piney Wood Lakes Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, created FoLL with a clear mission: reestablish Lake Livingston as a prime destination for anglers and water enthusiasts by restoring aquatic habitat. With the plan approved, FoLL was formed to focus on four key goals:

  • Create natural habitat by planting non-invasive aquatic plants on shorelines, islands, and shallow water flats.
  • Reduce shoreline erosion, improve water filtration and quality, and provide habitat for juvenile fish, reptiles, and birds.
  • Engage a multi-generational volunteer force to manage the project.
  • Educate community volunteers, school-age children, and state and local agencies to demonstrate the economic and ecological impact of building a healthy aquatic habitat.

To accomplish their goal, FoLL created a community-based volunteer pool ranging from local high school students in their early teens to retirees in their eighties. This also includes inmate horticulturists from Huntsville’s Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Ellis Unit that are developing improved methods for growing healthier plants in less time, in partnership with Lee College and the Texas Master Naturalists.

Friends of Lake Livingston’s initial plan was to introduce 100,000 native aquatic plants into the lake within 10 years. Now into their sixth year, the project is expected to continue as an eco-recovery effort that will create self-sustaining habitat along the non-bulk-headed shoreline and riparian areas of Lake Livingston. Based on research conducted by FoLL and Texas Parks and Wildlife in early 2017 to monitor plant survival and provide valuable information on optimum planting sites, depth, and plant sizes:

  • 50% of Plants Survived: The success rate for all plantings exceeds 50%, with over 5,000 plants thriving
  • Protected Creek Plantings Thrive: Water-willows require protection from the north and south winds resulting in healthy colony development. 
  • Plants Prefer Shallow Water: Plantings done in four to six inches of water resulted in thriving colonies, developing up the banks, and beyond the initial planting depth.
  • North End Offers Greatest Opportunity: Upper reaches of Lake Livingston, with its network of creeks, coves, and sub-lakes offers unlimited planting sites. Planting on that end also offers the greatest filtration of silt as it washes into the reservoir.

These native aquatic plants, once established in sustaining colonies, will provide habitat for fish, birds, and other invertebrates, as well as improve water quality. The end result is expected to add significant value to the community.

Despite floods, drought, storms, and the pandemic, planning continues for FoLL. Although the weather has improved for planting, the pandemic has continued, significantly impacting FoLL’s ability to hold 2020 conservation activities. Regardless of these challenges, their leadership team continues with reorganization, research, artificial habitats, and planning for 2021.

While FoLL goes through this extended period of restricted activity, they have begun resurveying planted sites. Several success stories have already emerged. Both plantings at the SHSU BearKat Camp near Hwy 19 on the north end of the lake show remarkable growth.  This area had serious flooding events over the last two years including inundation of over 6’ of water for periods of 6 to 8 weeks. 

  • A survey by Scooter Langley and Scott Ball showed hundreds of yards of widespread growth indicating the permanent establishment of an American water willow colony.
  • The planting site along Carolina Creek next to the Carolina Creek Christian Camp shows the same remarkable growth. Water willows are spreading both inside and outside the pens. Further, the Hyssop (low ground cover plant) has spread across the length of the sandbar yielding excellent soil stabilization.    
  • Carolina Creek site had only one hiccup. Upon removal of the pen around the Bulrush, the plants disappeared within 24 hours and were eaten down to the creek bottom. FoLL believes the culprits are either beavers or nutria. 
  • TPWD recently stocked Lake Livingston with largemouth Black Bass. A fair amount was put into the Carolina Creek planting site due to FoLL’s establishment of new aquatic habitat. 
  • FoLL also surveyed the Brown’s Creek site, which showed no evidence of planted water willows. FoLL suspects that they would have had better success if they used their current penning techniques they have mastered over the last couple of years.

Further surveys are in progress and report results will be sent out in FoLL nest update newsletter.

Additionally, last fall the high school students constructed 7 Georgia Cube Reefs. These reefs have been in storage for some time due to high water elevations over the last many months. In collaboration with Chad Holton and his staff at the Trinity River Authority, these reefs were finally inserted into Lake Livingston. Four were inserted along Jennings Branch next to Tigerville Park, and 3 were inserted along the Lake Livingston dam. GPS coordinates were supplied to Todd Driscoll (TPWD) for posting on the TPWD website. Insertion of these reefs provide significant new aquatic habitat for fish. 

FoLL is also saying farewell to two significant forces behind their work, Research Director, Steve Barr and Volunteer & Communications Coordinator, Beth Miller. FoLL is excited to welcome the following two individuals to their team:

  • Leo Da Silva will be our liaison with Carolina Creek Christian Camp, our partner for activities on the north side of Lake Livingston
  • James Frost, a member in training with Pineywoods Lakes Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists and a bioprocess efficiency expert, will take over Steve Barr’s research-focused activities helping us identify new planting techniques and aquatic plant species

Friends of Lake Livingston is currently seeking individuals to join their organization to work with the high school agriculture teachers on school participation and program updates and for individuals to help with the website, social media, and communication duties. The leadership team meets once every or every other month depending on activities in process. There are always kolaches and donuts, interesting conversation, and water-based activities to enjoy. If you are interested please email Beth Miller

The FoLL team plans to apply for several more grants to support their ongoing projects. FoLL is entirely volunteer-based and self-funded. Those interested in supporting their conservation mission can sponsor supplies and materials, such as potting soil, artificial fish habitats, seed trays, grow tanks, and more.

Learn more about Friends of Lake Livingston on their website and stay-tuned to their Facebook page for regular updates.

Photo by Grant Miller