The Bayou Bartholomew Watershed in Arkansas and Louisiana
By: Winrock International
The Bayou Bartholomew Watershed of Arkansas and Louisiana is one of the nation’s most unique places. Bayou Bartholomew follows a meandering course through all or part of Jefferson, Lincoln, Drew, Desha, Chicot, and Ashley counties in Arkansas and joins the Ouachita River in Morehouse Parish, near Sterlington, Louisiana. The site is considered a conservation priority by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) because 1) it contains what is probably the largest, relatively intact, low relief stream subject to bank overflow in the Mississippi River Valley; 2) it supports at least three species of federally listed freshwater mussels and over half of all known mussel species found in Louisiana; 3) it may support the most diverse assemblage (103 species) of freshwater fish of any stream system in North America; and 4) although fragmented, it captures a landscape of bottomland forest that supports important populations of many species, including the threatened Louisiana black bear and high-quality examples of numerous plant communities.
Bayou Bartholomew is listed in the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) 305(b) Water Quality Assessment Report as impaired for primary contact for recreation and aquatic life. The Arkansas Soil & Water Conservation Commission (ASWCC) designates this watershed as a high priority 319 non-point source pollution area. Furthermore, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) has designated Bayou Bartholomew as having water quality impairment relating to agriculture. The primary conservation targets at Bayou Bartholomew are the freshwater aquatic community (mussels and fish) and the matrix of bottomland hardwood communities that contribute to maintenance of water quality required by these aquatics. Much of the watershed has been deforested and converted to agriculture. A significant portion of the remaining forestland has been managed for timber production over the decades, and composition and structure are now altered to some extent.
Despite construction of several drainage canals and levees to support adjacent agricultural activities, much of the site is annually exposed to significant over bank flooding, and the flooding cycle, sediment deposition, nutrient input, fish stock replenishment, etc. are considered to closely approximate historic conditions. Because of the size, current condition and relatively intact hydrology of the site, its species and communities are considered highly viable with appropriate conservation action.
Bayou Bartholomew Watershed is blessed with a well thought-out watershed plan and strategies to address problem areas for the stream itself, its surrounding wetlands, and the watershed. In 1995, The Bayou Bartholomew Alliance (BBA), a local citizen-based non-profit organization concerned about the stream, convened a technical support group of federal and state natural resources agency personnel to develop a short and long-term restoration plan for Bayou Bartholomew. This resulted in the 1996 publishing of “Short and Long Term Strategies for Protecting and Enhancing Natural Resources in the Bayou Bartholomew Watershed.”This plan is referenced in the project descriptions and will continue to be the basis of all restoration, conservation, and preservation activities of the BBA in the watershed. Additionally, through EPA and other supporting funding, the “Watershed Restoration Action Strategy (WRAS) for the Bayou Bartholomew Watershed” was developed in 1999 to compliment and enhance the original watershed plan, and most recently, the “Bayou Bartholomew Wetland Planning Area Report” was developed in 2002 to address wetlands planning, restoration, and protection in the watershed. These three documents provide a consensus of federal, state and local stakeholders within the watershed to address the identified problems in the watershed.