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Experts: Lake impacted little by drought

By Hannah DeClerk
Dec. 13, 2011 at 10 p.m.

The effects of the lingering drought in East Texas on Caddo Lake are not of real environmental concerns to scientists, water managers and important stakeholders, experts told a meeting in Jefferson Tuesday.

The drought was just one of the factors considered during a series of environment flow workshops covering the Northeast Texas watershed region held at the Jeffersonian Institute.

"The orientation for the first of the meeting was in 2004, and we have had four workshops since," President of Caddo Lake Institute Richard Lowerre said. "We have about 60 to 80 participants, half of them I would say are technical experts, scientists, and the other half are stakeholders that have good backgrounds too."

Organized by the Institute and The Nature Conservancy, the workshop examined technical aspects of biology, hydrology, hydraulics and water quality called the building blocks of ecological flows.

The goal of the project overall is to maintain and/or restore a degree of the natural flow pattern in the tributaries of Caddo Lake in order to maintain the health and productivity of the streams and Caddo Lake itself.

Lowerre explained the combination of participants include representatives from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Corps of Engineers, and National Wildlife Federation.

He said when combined with stakeholders, such as the landowners or marine operators, it makes the perfect combination of science and who will be affected.

"The ultimate goal of the Environmental Flows work is to determine how much water is needed to maintain the ecological health of Caddo Lake and its tributaries as habitat for animals and plants and also people," Lowerre added.

Nature Conservancy Representative Andy Warner said the study is also designed to meet the needs of people.

"We focus on water supply, flood protection, and look at them as important ways in the economic health of our communities, and providing those needs while doing so in a way that protects the environment," Warner said.

Participants broke off into groups to study recent scientific studies and make adjustments to recommendations for environmental flow regimes and the state reservation of water.

The group focused on four watersheds flowing into Caddo Lake: Little Cypress, Big Cypress, Black Cypress, and sources from Louisiana.

The only body of water part of a controlled flow is Big Cypress, part of Lake O' the Pines.

When looking at the factors of the water supply in relation to the recent 2011 drought, Lowerre explained Caddo Lake has actually had good numbers for both its upstream and downstream flows.

"Big Cypress releases water down to Caddo from the dam which is part of Lake O' the Pines," he explained. "We have been releasing a good amount of water to make sure we are meeting those goals, so they have been great."

He added even though the level numbers are good, it does not mean Caddo Lake is full, it just means it has enough water supply to maintain a healthy system.

"I think we are okay for being in a drought, and we are for the main future," he said. "When more people buy water supplies from Lake O' the Pines, and there are more demands, it will get tougher, but even then we will still have Little Cypress and Black Cypress, which are both natural bodies of water."

He added it would take at least two years of absolutely no rainfall in order to begin worrying about the potential of Caddo Lake actually drying out.



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