Caddo National Grasslands -- On February 6, 2013, the United States Forest Service (USFS) began implementing a water drawdown at Lake Crockett on the Caddo National Grasslands. The USFS administers this lake in addition to other units in Fannin County. Two siphons were constructed on the dam of the lake directing water into an oxbow of Bois D’ Arc Creek. The drawdown is being conducted in close consultation with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries biologist Bruce Hysmith who initially recommended the action be taken to “improve fisheries habitat by controlling excessive aquatic vegetation as part of their routine fisheries survey.”
“Drawing the lake down 5-8 feet will hopefully freeze and dry out some of this [aquatic] vegetation,” states Dave Peterson, USFS fisheries biologist for the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas (NFGT), allowing predator fish (largemouth bass) to gain access to prey species (various sunfish species which inhabit the lake) currently taking refuge by an overabundance of cattails, bushy pondweed, and American lotus.
Mr. Peterson points out this vegetative overgrowth has “made it difficult for bass to prey upon their preferred prey fish” in the lake.
Some local fishermen had been concerned that this project could be harmful to the habitat where fish lay eggs.
"Most fish species in Lake Crockett are nest builders; hence, deposit their eggs in fanned-out depressions on the lake’s bottom," explains Mr. Hysmith. "A few minnow species deposit their eggs on vegetation, but won’t be effected because there will still be vegetation standing in water."
The timing of the drawdown had also been questioned.
"Spawning will not be negatively affected by the drawdown," says Hysmith. "In fact, water level should be on the rise prior to most species really getting into spawning. And, keep in mind we are not completely dewatering the entire basin. There will still be lake bottom on which nesting species can build nests."
The drawdown should have no noticeable impact on parasites in Lake Crockett, according to Hysmith. The biologist states the lower water level will concentrate organisms, however lower water temperature will reduce any impact by parasites.
Additionally, the drawdown will offer a unique opportunity for the USFS to install “fish structures.” These edifices made of PVC pipe attached to a cement anchor look like the profile of a tree which will "provide cavities for protection and rearing opportunities for catfish” according to Peterson. These structures will be inserted into shallow areas once the drawdown is complete.
Erik Taylor, District Ranger of the Caddo National Grasslands wanted to chance to provide the purpose of the drawdown to the public due to recent vandalism at the site. He states, “On February 26, vandals entered the area of the siphons and with sledgehammers destroyed several thousands of dollars of taxpayer-purchased, heavy-duty piping, valves, and footings.”
He further stated, “It’s unfortunate the damage incurred was by some bad actor(s) that didn’t understand the beneficial effects of the drawdown to both our public users of the lake and the wildlife that relies upon it. If anyone is aware of those involved, please contact the District office at 940.627.5475.”
The siphon is back online in addition to opening the spillway valve on the dam in order to make up for time lost in repairing the site. While the drawdown is in effect the boat ramp is temporarily closed for public safety, but all other uses of the lake are still open to the public. The drawdown will continue until late April when spring rains are expected to begin refilling the lake. Once the lake is filled back up, the boat ramp will be re-opened.
If there are any questions about the drawdown, please contact Erik Taylor or Amanda Bataineh, USFS natural resource specialist at the USFS Decatur, TX office. Both can be reached at 940.627.5475.