Waters to Watch

A list assembled by the nation’s leading authorities on aquatic conservation to create cleaner and healthier habitats for the many fish and wilfdlife species and people who call these areas home

So what is Waters to watch and why Should I care?

The 10 Waters to Watch list, assembled by the nation’s leading authorities on aquatic conservation, is a collection of rivers, streams and shores that will be cleaner and healthier habitats for the many fish and wildlife species and people who call these areas home.

Thanks to the combined actions of concerned community groups, non-profit organizations, local watershed groups, Native American tribes and state and federal agencies, these waters are being improved by planting stream-side vegetation, removing structures blocking fish from habitat and protecting bodies of water from the effects of industrial processes, agriculture and livestock.

They are representative of freshwater to marine waters across the country including lakes and reservoirs that are improving through the conservation efforts of the National Fish Habitat Action Plan — a bold initiative to reverse persistent declines in aquatic habitat.

1. Balmorhea Springs, Texas

Project Submission by: The Desert Fish Habitat Partnership

Conservation Action:
This spring system supports three endangered fish species and four species of concern. They are threatened by issues including complete dewatering, depletion of aquifers by groundwater pumping, conversion for agricultural or recreation use, and poor land management practices. Management of spring and ciénega systems requires a holistic, watershed approach with private, state, federal, and local partners to conserve, restore, and address threats to these important desert habitats. Project Partners: Desert Fish Habitat Partnership Texas Parks and Wildlife Department US Fish and Wildlife Service US Bureau of Reclamation The Nature Conservancy Dexter National Fish Hatchery and Technology Center Reeves County Water Improvement District Texas Department of Agriculture Environmental Protection Agency USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Texas Agricultural Extension Service University of Texas at Austin University of Texas – Pan American Sul Ross University Texas Department of Transportation Texas Department of Criminal Justice Educational Foundation of America National Fish and Wildlife Foundation City of Balmorhea

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2. Lake Conroe, Texas

Project Submission by: The Reservoir Fish Habitat Partnership

The primary issue at Lake Conroe is the need to enhance littoral habitat including the native aquatic plant community while controlling invasive exotic aquatic vegetation. Lake Conroe has been in a state of flux since its impoundment in the late 1970’s with an early infestation of hydrilla followed by total removal of the aquatic plant community by 270,000 diploid grass carp stocked in the early 1980’s. Native vegetation restoration was begun in 1995 by Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) and its partners, but increased nutrient loading caused by rampant urbanization along with attrition of the grass carp population led to a re-infestation of the reservoir by hydrilla and water hyacinth. In addition, the exotic aquatic fern, giant salvinia, was discovered in Lake Conroe in 2000. In 2006 TPWD, the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), the Lake Conroe Association (LCA), the Seven Coves Bass Club (SCBC), and other constituent groups created the Lake Conroe Habitat Management Plan for the control of exotic vegetation and the enhancement of the native aquatic plant community. Hydrilla, water hyacinth, and giant salvinia are now under control, but as a result of grass carp stockings as part of the integrated pest management (IPM) strategy, native vegetation was greatly reduced. In Phase 1 of the Lake Conroe Habitat Improvement Project (2005-2010) SCBC, SJRA, TPWD, and the US Army Corps of Engineers Lewisville Ecosystem Research Facility (LAERF) constructed a native aquatic plant nursery below the Lake Conroe Dam using grant funding provided by BASS; SCBC, SJRA, LAERF, and TPWD transferred approximately 2,500 mature plants from the nursery into Lake Conroe; and SJRA and LCA controlled approximately 2,000 acres of exotic vegetation including hydrilla, giant salvinia, and water hyacinth using a combination of herbicide, mechanical control, and grass carp introductions.

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3. Big Lake, Alaska

Project Submission by: The Mat-Su Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership

Big Lake, located in the fast-developing Mat-Su Basin, is a large well populated and heavily recreated lake in the growing community of Big Lake just west of the City of Wasilla. The lake itself, with 26 miles of shoreline, and two streams in its basin, are used by spawning sockeye and coho salmon each year, and host resident populations of Dolly Varden, Rainbow Trout, and other fish. Both Fish Creek, which drains directly into the Pacific at the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet, and Meadow Creek, a spring-fed system which empties into Big Lake, are important salmon waters with several active partner studies, angling recreation, water monitoring, and youth & community volunteers participating in hands-on restoration projects. This waterbody has been the centerpiece of the Big Lake Community's discussions in plans to expand, possibly incorporating as City, and in the oncoming construction of a rail spur connecting Port Mackenzie in the south to Alaska's Interior and the rest of 26,000 square miles Mat-Su Borough and industrial opportunities along the railway. The area is changing rapidly, and it is hoped that designation as a Water to Water 2013 will serve to celebrate and highlight many partners' efforts and projects towards a healthy development model embracing preservation of clean water and the integrity of fish habitat. Big Lake Community is working on a Community Impact Assessment Project with the Mat-Su Borough to address responsible growth, including habitat concerns.

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4. Bear River Estuary, Washington

Project Submission by: The Pacific Marine and Estuarine Partnership

Conservation Action: The Bear River Estuary Restoration project would restore 500 acres of high quality, estuarine habitat on the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. Re-establishment of natural estuarine processes and habitats will benefit a diverse array of aquatic and avian species including marine invertebrates, salmon and trout, shorebirds, and waterfowl. Restoration will provide habitat for juveniles salmon, reconnect spawning streams for salmon and trout, and contribute to the overall health of Willapa Bay. Project Partners: Ron Craig, Craig Enterprises, Project Design John Evans, NDC Timber Western Washington Fisheries Resource Office and Columbia River Fisheries Office Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Willapa Fisheries Enhancement Group and the Salmon Recovery Funding Board AMEC Earth and Infrastructure, Inc. Herrera Environmental Ducks Unlimited. Sustainable Fisheries Foundation. Washington Coast Sustainable Salmon Partnership.

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Cape Fear

5. Cape Fear River, North Carolina

Project Submission by: The Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership

Conservation Action: Located in a priority area identified in the North Carolina Department of Marine Fisheries Coastal Habitat Protection Plan, this project will restore .5 acres of fish habitat by placing approximately 1,000 tons of crushed granite (over 2,000 cubic yards, .5 acres downstream of lock and dam #2) in the Cape Fear River below Lock & Dam No. 2 in Bladen County. Currently, less than 35% of the fish population is able to reach historical spawning grounds. Project Partners: Cape Fear River Watch (CPRW) US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), NC Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF), NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) Dial Cordy and Associates, Inc. (DC&A) Maritech Dredging US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Wilmington Division Martin Marietta Aggregates

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6. Chipola River, Florida

Project Submission by: The Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership

Conservation Action: This project will result in 1.9 miles of stream bank restoration, removal of livestock from the river, and replacement of a perched culvert within the Chipola River for the benefit of shoal bass and imperiled mussel species.

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7. Grape Creek, California

Project Submission by: The California Fish Passage Forum

Conservation Action: Grape Creek is located in the Russian River watershed, the first Habitat Focus Area selected as part of NOAA's new agency-wide Habitat Blueprint initiative. Habitat Focus Areas are places where NOAA is pooling resources and expertise to maximize conservation of important habitat. This project will improve streamflow for endangered coho and threatened chinook salmon and steelhead trout in Northern California wine country. NOAA will take a similar approach in other watersheds in coastal California through the Water and Wine Stewardship program.

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8. Leech Lake, Minnesota

Project Submission by: Midwest Glacial Lakes Partnership

Conservation Action: This watershed includes 750,000 acres with 273 lakes. With steady population growth in the region and projected population increases of up to 50% by 2030, the lakes and streams in the watershed are under pressure from increased shoreline development. Conservation initiatives such as the establishment of Conservation Easements, and improving connectivity for fish in tributaries will benefit fish and fish habitats in the watershed.

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9. Millenium Reserve Initiative, Illinois

Project Submission by: Midwest Glacial Lakes Partnership

Conservation Action: This project is part of the President's Great Outdoors Initiative. The project seeks to transform the Calumet region of Chicago into a one-of-a kind open space destination. The environment will be improved by restoring 6000 acres of natural areas within the 140,000 acre project area, including 18,554 acres of wetlands and several lakes adjacent to and upstream of Lake Michigan, as well as Lake Michigan lakeshore. This project is currently the largest open space project in the country.

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10. Upper Tippecanoe River, Indiana

Project Submission by: Midwest Glacial Lakes Partnership

Conservation Action: The Tippecanoe Watershed Foundation created the Healthy Shorelines Initiative in 2011 to improve the quality and health of shorelines and lakes in the Upper Tippecanoe River Watershed, one of the Partnership's priority watersheds. The Foundation provides cost-share funds to landowners for shoreline projects that reduce erosion and nutrient loading from the shoreline, reduce wave action, and reduce scouring and re-suspension of bottom sediments, actions aligning with several of The National Fish Habitat Partnerships objectives.

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