Friends of Lake Livingston

Texan by Nature designated Friends of Lake Livingston (FoLL) as a valued partner and as a 2017 Conservation Wrangler for leadership in the restoration of Lake Livingston.

Lake Livingston is the second largest lake in Texas, and was created by the construction of The Livingston Dam across the Trinity River in 1971 to provide most of Houston’s water. The surrounding agricultural and undeveloped lands became the lake’s floor as the reservoir filled, and due to lack of native aquatic plants and animals on this land, as well as the overuse of shore bulkheads and past management practices, the lake had little to no aquatic ecosystem. These practices resulted in loss of quality shoreline habitat, increased shore erosion and siltation, and reduced water quality. The lack of native vegetation also exposed the lake to infestation by invasive foreign plants.

In 2013, the Trinity River Authority and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department 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 with the support of Reservoir Fisheries Habitat  (RFHP) and Friends of Reservoirs, RFHP’s business and outreach arm, created FoLL with a clear mission: reestablish Lake Livingston as a prime destination for anglers and water enthusiasts by improving 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 across its expected 10-year span.
  • Educate local high schools to grow, propagate, and plant to demonstrate the economic and ecological impacts of 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 includes 6 high school agriculture programs, the Piney Woods Lake and Heartwood chapters of Texas Master Naturalists, and the San Jacinto Master Gardeners. FoLL also works with inmate horticulturists from Huntsville’s Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Ellis Unit to improve methods for growing healthier plants in less time by documenting the fertilization and propagation process. Working with FoLL also gives inmates the opportunity to connect with and improve their communities.

At eight years into the 10-year program, FoLL has achieved much as an all-volunteer effort:

  • Approximately 25,000 aquatic plants have been introduced into Lake Livingston 
  • Named one of “2015 10 Waters to Watch” by National Fish Habitat Partnership
  • Built a multi-generational, all volunteer coalition of 600+ adults (retirees to young parents) and students
  • In partnership with the OB Ellis Unit Correctional Facility, with guidance of Lee College School of Horticulture, to operate 3 additional grow tanks enabling the growth of 10,000 plants.
  • Put 23 grow tanks in operation at schools across the region, each with 600-700 plants
  • 6 school districts, with grow tanks, engaged in propagating, maintaining, and planting
  • Created a rich tapestry of community groups to participate in the project success, including the San Jacinto Master Gardeners, Texas Master Natural Naturalists (Livingston and Conroe), TBBU, and the Livingston Fishing Club (Hookers)
  • Began Community Outreach presentations for local schools, service organizations, and State Conference of Texas Master Naturalists

FoLL is on track to introduce 100,000 native American Water-willow plants into  the lake over a 10-year period. These plants are non-invasive, fast growing and very hardy, known to colonize up to 10 square feet per plant within two to three years. In addition to benefits like improved water quality, American Water-willows are also resilient enough to be food sources for wildlife like Pearl Crescent caterpillars and deer populations. In fact, deer often eat just the terminal bud of Water-willow, prompting the plant to put out several more buds and consequently become fuller plant colonies. 

Pearl Crescent Butterfly

To ensure biodiversity for a resilient ecosystem, FoLL is also planting several other adapted plant species like Buttonbush and Bald Cypress.

On September 13, 2017 former First Lady Laura Bush joined senior officials from Friends of Lake Livingston, Trinity River Authority, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to celebrate the ongoing restoration of Lake Livingston, Texas’ second largest lake. The event included a demonstration of American Water-willow (Justica americana) plantings in the lake by local high school students as part of the community-based efforts to foster aquatic habitat and revitalize this important natural resource.

“Due in part to TRWD’s awareness and partnering with Texan by Nature, they have become a central hub in an effort to connect worthy environmental projects with potential funding sources in the Trinity Basin. Without this important coordination piece many opportunities were being missed in the basin and Texan by Nature has filled a critical role in this effort. It truly is an example of a ‘good news’ story that likely will be replicated across the state.” – Friends of Lake Livingston

FoLL’s work was put to the test in the summer and fall of 2019 when heavy rain and widespread flooding conditions left planting sites under 2-6 feet of turbid water for nearly three months. When the water receded, plant colonies were able to rebound within a few months, demonstrating the durability of FoLL’s investment in Lake Livingston.

Lake Livingston now has four artificial reef sites installed by FoLL to strengthen aquatic ecosystems and reestablish Lake Livingston as a destination for anglers. Two artificial Georgia Cube reefs were built by students from Sam Houston State University and installed in 2019. Two additional artificial reefs from Mossback Reefs were installed in 2021 with funding through Friends of Reservoirs. 

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, and grow tanks. Visit the FoLL website to donate and learn more.

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“Our Conservation Wrangler Program features the very best Texan-led conservation projects, like the Lake Livingston restoration we are celebrating today. As we’ve seen firsthand, collaborative partnerships for conservation yield great benefits — for our natural landscapes, native plants and wildlife, and for everyone involved.”

-Mrs. Laura Bush, Founder of Texan by Nature

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