Texas Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office
Southwest Region

National Fish Passage Program

The state of Texas has over 7500 waterway barriers that may block the natural migration of fish to historic habitat used for reproduction and growth. To restore fish habitat, the Texas FWCO participates in the National Fish Passage Program (NFPP), which is a voluntary, non-regulatory effort.

Texas Barrier Inventory Project

Beginning in 2011, the TXFWCO is conducting an assessment of dams in Texas to identify and determine which of the structures are true barriers to fish passage, what fish species are affected, and how much fish habitat is being restricted. The results will rank the barriers in order of their impact on the fishery, High-impact barriers will be targeted for future restoration projects.

The TXFWCO partnered with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in 2011 on this project to develop a smart phone application to help populate a web-based map and database of fish passage barriers in Texas. The app was completed in 2013 and field testing was being completed by biologists from USGS, TPWD, The Nature Conservancy, and USFWS. The app cannot be used outside of a data service area, which requires the user to enter the information into a PDF form that must then be entered manually by TXFWCO staff. to make the app database securely available on line a license agreement with ARCGIS was required. During the license research process it was found that an easier solution called ARCGIS Collector app has already been developed. Several of the features of this app create more accuracy in collecting information and the TXFWCO will further explore the possible use of the Collector App.

Charles Evans Low Water Crossing

After a portion of the Llano River that crosses Mr. Evans property washed out the existing river crossing, Mr. Evans obtained a five year permit to construct a temporary sand and gravel crossing. With the permit expiring Mr. Evans is looking to rebuild a more permanent river crossing with the help of TXFWCO and TPWD. Mr. Evans is eager to start the project and will construct the crossing himself, using his own equipment and natural limestone slabs. Brian Waz, a fish passage engineer from Region 5, is designing the fish friendly low water crossing. Construction will begin in 2013.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Culvert Replacement

TXFWCO has been working with staff at Aransas NWR to complete three NFPP projects on Matagorda Island: Bray Cove Pass, South Bend Cut, and the Outer Rim culvert. The project replaced three 36-inch culverts at each of the three sites to restore tidal flow and allow ingress and egress of aquatic organisms to over 148 acres of highly productive feeding and nursery habitat. The project enhances valuable feeding, roosting, and nesting habitat for numerous avian species in addition to the significant benefits it provides to fisheries. Construction began in April 2012, after the endangered whooping cranes migrated in the spring. All work was completed in June 2012.

San Esteban Dam Removal

San Esteban Lake, a privately owned reservoir built for irrigation, is on Alamito Creek twelve miles south of Marfa in northeastern Presidio County. It was built at the sight of a historic spring-fed tinaja that supplied water to early Indians, Spanish explorers, and merchants who traveled the ancient Chihuahua Trail. Construction of the dam began in 1910. The original operating level of the lake was 4,451 feet above mean sea level, with a capacity of 18,770 acre-feet and an area of 762 acres. Due to siltation and a diminishing water table, the lake was limited to recreational use only in July 1969. Instead of a spillway there are three gate valves, each located sixteen inches under the dam deck. These valves are no longer functional.

The TXFWCO proposes to remove two large sections of the dam to allow water to pass through unimpeded into the creek below. The dam is located approximately 18 miles upstream of the Alamito Creek Preserve, managed by the TPWLT who seek to restore a natural flow regime to Alamito Creek. The lake behind the dam has dried up an only retains water during flooding events. The dam is believed to be impeding the flow of subsurface water for aquatic species downstream. The removal of the dam or a section of it would allow subsurface water to flow into the perennial pools downstream that provide habitat for many species.

The biggest obstacle to the removal of the dam is the presence of an old ranch house, built in the 1800s, approximately 1.5 miles downstream from the dam. The creek exits the canyon and flows onto a bajada on which the ranch house, previously farmed fields, and Ranch Road 169 are located. Previous farming activities have obliterated the channel and current-flow is directed toward the ranch house and the road. At the south end of the bajada, the Alamito Creek channel is still intact. The landowner has expressed concern that if a portion of the dam is removed the house and road will be flooded out during storm events. The next step is to acquire accurate survey data of the bajada and use the data and water shed characteristics to design an appropriate channel from the canyon mouth to the existing downstream channel. The project has been suspended, but may be reinitiated later.

Dow Woods Low Water Crossing Replacement

In May 2012 TXFWCO conducted a site visit to a low water crossing at Dow Woods, part of the Texas Mid-Coastal Wildlife Refuge Complex. The low water crossing impedes the flow of the Bastrop Bayou. The metal culverts have deteriorated, are undersized, and unable to deal with the flooding and tidal flows in the bayou. The Refuge has a friends group that can put up matching funds for the project, with funding completed in 2012. Engineering has been completed for the project and it is scheduled to take place in 2013. In addition to the ecological benefit to aquatic species of replacing the current crossing, the new crossing will allow access to 1.6 additional miles of trails on the refuge.

San Antonio River Log Jam Removal Project

Beginning in 2013 the TXFWCO began working with the San Antonio Bay Foundation and the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority to develop this project. The project seeks to remove 1.5 miles of logjam from the river that has created a fish passage barrier that is causing overbank flooding and increased water loss due to evaporation which has resulted in decreased flows into the estuaries of San Antonio Bay. The National Fish Passage Program with supply some of the funding for the project, and the partners are building support to raise the additional funds needed for this large project. The Guadalupe Blanco River Authority will remove the logs from the river using heavy equipment and barges, and once the logs have dried out they will be burned. The project will benefit multiple species such as blue crab and oysters, which in turn will benefit the endangered whooping crane.

Uvalde County Road 416

This low level water crossing is constructed with gravel and metal culverts. During high water events, the gravel and metal culverts are washed downstream destroying the crossing. During low water periods, the water flows through the gravel crossing instead of through the culverts, creating a fish passage issue. In 2010, Uvalde County signed a cooperative agreement with USFWS to rebuild the crossing. In 2011, Uvalde County contracted TRC Engineering in Austin, TX, to design the new road crossing. TRC Engineering has completed the design and the Roads Department of Uvalde County plans on commencing construction in the spring of 2013. Partners in this project include Uvalde County, TPWD, and the Nueces River Authority.

Ottine Dam Removal Project

The TXFWCO is working on a barrier removal project on the San Marcos River at Ottine Dam. The dam was built in 1911 near the town of Ottine. It was once used to produce power for the mill as well as to provide power to the town. It has long since been abandoned for this use and is now failing. Water has undermined the foundation of the dam and it has shifted, creating swift currents through the opening and forming a barrier to fish passage. The owner of the dam is concerned about the liability the dam now poses and has sought assistance in its removal.

The Ottine Dam project was funded through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Fish Passage Program and coordinated by the Texas Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. Partners on this project are TPWD, the San Marcos River Foundation, and the Texas Water Safari. The project was originally slated for removal in 2012 and experienced several delays. With funding on the verge of being cancelled the Southeast Region Habitat Team stepped in along with the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife refuge to complete the dam removal in January 2016.

Without the dam, the river will have an unobstructed 39 mile stretch of water and regain its natural movement and flow. This will benefit fish and other aquatic species, including mussels. Those who enjoy spending time on the San Marcos River will also benefit. Kayakers and canoers that participate in the Texas Water Safari annual race from the San Marcos headwaters to the coast will no longer be required to port and carry their equipment up and down a steep incline to bypass the dangerous dam. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is also considering now adding the stretch of river to their paddling trails system for Palmetto State Park which is just downstream of the dam.

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Last updated: February 16, 2016