Natural Resources

The Waco Wetlands as a Win-Win Partnership

 

            The Waco Wetlands is a unique 180-acre mitigation area which serves multiple functions:

  1. Habitat mitigation for 2003 Waco Lake pool rise of 7 feet
  2. Natural water purification area for North Bosque River, which supplies 75% of Waco Lake’s inflow and has major dairy pollution issues upstream
  3. Partnership with City of Waco and Baylor University to manage area
  4. Center for Environmental Education and other community outreach
  5. Wildlife hotspot, producing seasonal county bird record sightings since functioning in 2003
  6. Gathering space for local environmental orgs and potential exhibit space.

In 1998, the Waco City Council voted to increase the Lake Waco Pool by seven feet, providing over 20,177 acre/feet more water. This decision guaranteed sufficient water to supply the growing needs of Central Texas.  As a result, the City of Waco, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Baylor University, and the United States Fish & Wildlife Service began constructing a 180-acre wetland on Lake Waco as partial fulfillment to replace habitat lost when the lake was raised.  The Lake Waco Wetlands was designed by Wetland Technologies, Inc. out of Houston, Texas.
Located at 1752 Eichelberger Crossing Road in Waco, the Wetlands is a valuable resource to many area schools and universities, augments existing and future water-related educational programs at Baylor University, and provides professional and technical training and support services.  Additionally, it implements outreach efforts to educate the community and local school children about reservoir systems and related water issues.  As part of the mitigation plans for the Waco Lake pool rise, 300 acres of bottomland hardwoods and former pasture land on the south side of the North Bosque River has been contoured and flooded since 2001 to create a wetlands area.  This area is leased for 25 years for operation by the City of Waco as multifunctional habitat mitigation, water purification, natural resource attraction, and environmental education center.  The Waco Lake Wetland Project is now included in the Texas Parks and Wildlife guide to the Piney Woods and Prairies, and is highlighted by the Texas Travel Industry Association publication for “eco-tourism.” 

This project is unique - there are three other wetlands within 150 miles of Waco, but none provide the combination of public access, research opportunities and the diversity of native plants at the Lake Waco Wetlands.  Initially, an aquatic plant nursery was created with native aquatic plants within a 200-mile radius from Waco harvested, brought back and planted.  SJanuary 22, 2015totaling 180 acres were established.  Water pumped into the wetland infall basin takes between seven and ten days to filter through the wetlands and adjacent bottomland hardwoods before flowing into Lake Waco.  The Lake Waco Wetland "treats" 11 million gallons of water per day.  The Bosque River has high nitrogen and phosphorus levels, which the wetlands filter through four distinct "marsh cells”, ranging from water less than 6 inches to more than 12 feet deep.  The Research and Education Center was opened to the public September 4, 2004.  Facilities encompass 6,000 square feet, comprised of the Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research (CRASR site - 1,500 sq. ft.), a 2,000 sq. ft. nature center, and a 900 sq.ft. indoor classroom installed with donated scientific equipment.    

The area now has 2.6 miles of trails with 3 elevated observation platforms.  In 2006, Baylor University completed their Baylor Experimental Aquatic Research (BEAR) area that includes sixteen pond mesocosms (miniature wetlands) and twelve experimental stream mesocosms including the largest riffle study facility in the region, which mimic natural wetlands and stream habitats found in Central Texas.  According to Dr. Ryan King, Assistant Professor for the CRASR at Baylor, the goal is to identify the critical concentrations of nutrients that cause imbalances in the natural assembly of organisms, which will ultimately help develop water-quality criteria that protect aquatic resources in Texas from excessive pollution.  The Central Texas Audubon Society, in cooperation with Baylor University, is monitoring bird population increases, geochemistry of the wetland soils, and other ecological changes.

Approximately 24 species of aquatic macrophytes are currently found at the wetland.  Efforts were made from the beginning of the project to establish native aquatic vegetation, and aggressive species such as cattails were not planted.  Cattails are now abundant, and the city has worked to control non-native species such as Hydrilla and Arundo donax (giant cane).  The local chapter of the Audubon Society has documented 140 species of birds at the wetland to date, and data collected for Texas Amphibian Watch documented 6 species of frogs calling.  Ducks and geese have been abundant, and roseate spoonbills and anhingas have made surprise appearances.  Some less desirable inhabitants have included cattle egret and nutria.

Guide books for wetland birds and another on wetland plants have been completed thanks in part by an Environmental Education EPA grant.  There have been over 6, 000 volunteers out in the wetlands either harvesting, transplanting or maintaining the wetland plants this is equal to 10,000 volunteer hours that have been donated to the establishment of the wetlands.  School groups and organizations continually participate in Fall and Spring plantings.  Many of these groups are from the greater Waco area, but others have traveled from as far away as San Antonio, Austin and Dallas.  Locally, three major colleges and universities and over 24 independent school districts have participated in the volunteer opportunities offered at the wetland. 

Timeline

December 19, 2000 - Waco City Council authorized agreement to raise lake level.

August 2001 - Nursery area of the wetlands constructed.

September 2002 - Programs at the wetlands begin.

August 27, 2004 - Grand Opening of the Research and Education Center.

September 20, 2006 - Dedication of Baylor University’s BEAR site.

For additional information about the Lake Waco Wetlands Project, visit the website at: http://www.lakewacowetlands.com or contact Nora Schell, Program Coordinator at the Lake Waco Wetlands, at 254-848-9654.

Physical Address:
Lake Waco Wetlands
1752 Eichelberger Crossing
China Spring, Tx. 76633

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 2570
Waco, Tx. 76702-2570

Bibliography:
1) Waco OMP, USACE, 2006.
2) Land and Water article by Nora Schell and Melissa Mullins:
Lake Waco Wetlands Project— more than just a mitigation project
3) Baylor University Wetland Website
4) City of Waco Wetland Website

 

Downloadable Forms & Information:

Endangered Species Key

Rare Bird Report

Waco Bird List

Waco Butterflies & Dragonflies

Waco Flowers

 

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