Missouri’s Table Rock Lake, site of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open last month, was selected as one of the 10 Waters to Watch, an annual list developed by the National Fish Habitat Partnership (NFHP).
“These waters represent a snapshot of this year’s larger voluntary habitat conservation efforts in progress,” according to the NFHP press release announcing the 2012 list. “These and other locally driven conservation projects are prioritized and implemented by regional Fish Habitat Partnerships that have formed throughout the country.”
Table Rock Lake and neighboring Lake Taneycomo are located in the White River Hills region of the Ozark Plateau along the Missouri-Arkansas border. At conservation pool, Table Rock Lake encompasses 43,100 acres with 745 miles of shoreline, and Lake Taneycomo covers just more than 2,000 acres. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates the recreational use of the lake at 40 to 50 million visitor visits annually, with the economic value of the fishery estimated at $41 million (1997 estimate). Along with the Branson tourism industry, Table Rock and the other White River impoundments are responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars pumped into the local economies.
“This high-profile recreational development has come with an environmental cost,” according to a Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership (RFHP) press release. “The large number of visitors, as well as increases in confined animal production spaces in the watershed and population growth, has created water quality issues in Table Rock Lake. According to USGS, water clarity at Table Rock Dam decreased by more than 2 1/2 feet from 1974 to 1994. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) identified municipal sewage discharges, residential wastewater treatment systems and livestock and poultry wastes as the likely causes of nutrient loading.”
MDC determined that lack of structural habitat in Table Rock Lake was a limiting factor of fish community stability, and RFHP’s reservoir habitat assessment identified it as a major impairment of reservoirs in this region.
In 2007, MDC, Bass Pro Shops, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission began working on a five-year, $4.5 million project to maintain and enhance the fish habitat in Table Rock Lake and Lake Taneycomo.
Between October 2007 and September 2011, 1,650 fish habitat structures were installed in Table Rock Lake, including 1,460 brush structures, 104 rockpiles, 49 stumpfields, 11 rock/stump combination piles and 26 shallow-water rock fence structures. Structure locations are recorded by GPS and are available to the public on the MDC website.
The project builds upon a long-standing public/private partnership in southwest Missouri to improve and restore fish habitat in Table Rock Lake, Lake Taneycomo and their watersheds through cover augmentation, watershed management and other water quality-related projects.
“Large-scale reservoir habitat restoration efforts are larger and more costly than any one agency, state or federal, can undertake on its own,” said Jeff Boxrucker, RFHP coordinator. “Partnerships among agencies, local communities, and resource users are vital to addressing these issues, not only to sustain high quality recreational opportunities but to maintain the quality and quantity of water needed by consumptive users.”
“Our approach — teaming local, state, tribal and federal agencies with private partners and stakeholders — is the most strategic way we can make a difference in benefiting fish habitats,” said Kelly Hepler, chairman of the National Fish Habitat Board.
“By watching these 10 models of our nation’s aquatic conservation efforts under way, we can see real progress,” Hepler continued. “Too often, we have focused on treatment of symptoms with limited success. Through sound science and on-the-ground locally driven partnerships, these select Action Plan projects can be held high as a vision of what quality habitat should and can be, and how it benefits all people throughout the United States.”
The 10 Waters to Watch for 2012 are as follows: