April 25, 2012– The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) plans to begin de-watering Catahoula Lake starting May 1 with a target date of June 30 for reaching drawdown pool stage. That is one month earlier than the traditional June-July drawdown dates.
“We’ve worked to complete an earlier drawdown since we began experimentally changing the drawdown dates two years ago,” said Larry Reynolds, LDWFWaterfowl Study Leader. “But late spring rainfall and flooding have not allowed it.”
The water level at Catahoula Lake is currently between 34 and 35 feet MSL and will be lowered to approximately 31 feet by May 31 and to 27.5 feet by June 30, rainfall and runoff permitting.
Fishing is popular during the drawdown period when water is flowing through the diversion canal structure. In 2010, spring rainfall delayed an intended early drawdown, and de-watering of the lake proceeded at near normal timing. Last year, heavy spring flooding again prohibited an early drawdown and the lake was de-watered a month later than normal. The later drawdown in 2011 interrupted normal summer fishing patterns and many fishermen found no water flowing on the 4th of July weekend. LDWF is communicating intended drawdown dates sooner toavoid similar issues in 2012.
Catahoula Lake provides important wetland habitat for migrating waterfowl, shorebirds, and other wetland birds in Louisiana, especially during the late-summer and early-fall when shallow-flooded habitat is generally limited across the state. Lowering water levels in summer exposes mudflats, which are used extensively by migrating shorebirds of many species, and stimulates germination and growth of annual plants that produce seeds and tubers that provide excellent foods for migrating and wintering waterfowl.
Varying summer drawdown dates is one aspect of a management/research program exploring methods to combat encroaching woody vegetation on the lakebed, while maintaining or enhancing the production of high-quality food plants for migrating and wintering waterfowl. Static water-level management is well known to reduce productivity in wetland systems, and may be providing conditions favoring the spread of Swamp privet and Water elm trees, which displace waterfowl food-producing plants like Chufa flatsedge and Sprangletop.
LDWF has partnered with researchers at LSU’s School of Renewable Natural Resources to expand ecological knowledge of Water elm, relate the encroachment of woody species to past environmental conditions, and evaluate vegetation responses to recent management actions in hopes of developing a more comprehensive plan for managing the lake to maintain or improve habitat conditions for migratory waterfowl.
For more information contact Larry Reynolds at (225) 765-0456 or Lreynolds@wlf.la.gov.