The Return on Conservation™ of Caddo Lake

By Kenzie Cherniak

Caddo Lake Institute

Nestled between the secluded borderlands of Texas and Louisiana lies the enchanting Caddo Lake ecosystem– Texas’ only Wetland of International Importance. Bald cypress trees draped in Spanish moss emerge from the water, a haven for alligators, egrets, and herons. Across 27,000 acres, a labyrinth of waterways and bayous might just make you say– “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Texas anymore!”

To maintain its health, Caddo Lake depends on the dynamic movement of water. Seasonal changes in water levels play a crucial role by bringing in vital nutrients that support the growth of plants and various organisms within the lake. These fluctuations also shape native habitats that cater to diverse plant and animal species. The flow of water helps prevent stagnation, promotes oxygenation, and acts as a natural cleanse by flushing out pollutants and invasive species.

However, this extraordinary habitat is without a guardian. In contrast to most Texas lakes, there’s no river authority nor government agency overseeing the management and protection of the Caddo Lake system. Without this oversight, and with human activity disrupting the seasonal flows of water that have historically sustained this ecosystem, this Texas treasure is exposed to serious threats including pollution, invasive species, and drought.

Securing the Flow of Water for Caddo Lake

Caddo Lake Institute (CLI) was formed in 1993 to bring together state, federal, and local government entities, nonprofits, and the community to apply the best science practices to improve and protect the unique treasure that is Caddo Lake for generations to come. CLI’s Environmental Flows Project seeks to ensure there’s enough water flowing through the lake to maintain its natural balance, benefiting the environment, recreation, and the local economy in and around Caddo. CLI collaborates with The Nature Conservancy, Northeast Texas Municipal Water District, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to target the processes that Mother Nature would’ve done on her own, organizing the regular release of large pulses of fresh water into Caddo from upstream Lake O’ the Pines. By convening with these experts in various fields, CLI ensures that this project benefits from a wealth of knowledge and skills across disciplines. 

Through consulting with hydrologists, engineers, biologists, and botanists, CLI records baseline ecosystem data and ensures that all reported benefits are proven and science-based. For example, throughout Caddo Lake Institute’s ongoing water quality monitoring and management efforts, the lake has seen a 40% reduction in phosphorus caused by nutrient runoff, along with significant improvements in overall water quality.

Caddo Lake Institute – TxN 2023 Conservation Wrangler from Texan by Nature on Vimeo.

Realizing Economic Returns

While local conservation projects with biodiversity and nutrient pollution benefits– like CLI’s Environmental Flows Project are widely acknowledged as critical to addressing global natural resource challenges– investments for these projects often lag behind. According to a recent McKinsey report analyzing the sustainability goals of Fortune 500 companies, only 6% of these companies have committed to achieving biodiversity targets. Additionally, the report reveals that just 5% of Fortune 500 companies are committed to addressing targets related to nutrient pollution. 

What is hindering companies from investing in these critically valuable conservation projects?
One of the barriers is lack of information about the environmental and economic impacts of their investment. Despite their impactful environmental, economic, and social returns, investments in local conservation projects are often boxed out of corporate sustainability portfolios. The reality is that with limited dollars to invest in environmental or philanthropic giving, decision-makers allocate capital to investments with measurable impact, verifiable data, and clearly articulated returns.

The Texan by Nature Return on Conservation™ Index serves as a rosetta stone if you will, that articulates local conservation projects in terms of global impact. It allows leaders to plan for, review, and make investment decisions based on a project’s environmental and economic impacts. In short, the ROC™ Index helps companies and funders overcome the barriers to investment and makes the business case to accelerate conservation. The ROC™ Index aligns local conservation efforts like CLI’s Environmental Flows Project to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with verifiable data to demonstrate how it addresses global goals like Clean Water and Sanitation, Decent Work and Economic Growth, and Climate Action. 

TxN’s vision is for every business, and every Texan to participate in conservation, and for Texas to be a model of collaborative conservation for the world.

Texan by Nature’s Conservation Wrangler program accelerates the very best Texan-led conservation projects in the state. 2023 TxN Conservation Wrangler, Caddo Lake Institute, exemplifies how local, boots-on-the-ground conservation and innovative partnerships can be modeled, replicated, and scaled providing tangible returns to people, prosperity, and natural resources.

Learn more about Caddo Lake Institute and read the full ROC™ Index here

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