The National Fish Habitat Partnership ( has unveiled its 10 “Waters to Watch” list for 2013, a collection of rivers, streams, estuaries, watershed systems and lakes that will benefit from strategic conservation efforts to protect, restore or enhance their current condition.

These waters represent a snapshot of this year’s voluntary habitat conservation efforts in progress. These and other locally driven conservation projects are prioritized and implemented by regional Fish Habitat Partnerships that have formed throughout the country.

The objective of these projects—to conserve freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats essential to the many fish and wildlife species that call these areas home—is the foundation of the National Fish Habitat Partnership.

Throughout the year, through the work of our partners, these projects will be the showcase of conservation efforts working to avoid and reverse persistent declines in our nation’s aquatic habitats. Having featured 70 Waters to Watch partnership projects since 2007, the monitoring of these projects is proving that on-the-ground conservation activities and strategies are truly making a difference in improving fish habitat.

The 2013 “Waters to Watch”:

Balmorhea Springs, TX

(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.

Bear River Estuary, WA

(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 juvenile salmon, reconnect spawning streams for salmon and trout, and contribute to the overall health of Willapa Bay.

Big Lake, AK

(Mat-Su Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership)
Conservation Action: Big Lake, located in the fast-developing Mat-Su Borough, is a large, well-populated lake used for recreation in the growing community of Big Lake, just west of Wasilla. The lake itself, with 26 miles of shoreline and two streams in its basin, is used by spawning sockeye and coho salmon each year, and is host to resident populations of Dolly Varden, and rainbow trout.  Threats include hydrocarbons from boats, habitat loss through shoreline development, urban stormwater runoff, and invasive northern pike. The Big Lake Community is working on a Community Impact Assessment Project with the Mat-Su Borough to address responsible growth, including habitat concerns.

Cape Fear River, NC

(Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership/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.

Chipola River, FL

(Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership)
Conservation Action: As part of the “Chipola River Watershed Restoration for Listed Mussels and the Black Bass Initiative” project, partners will collaborate with state and non-profit entities to address conservation priorities that will benefit aquatic resources in the Chipola River Basin.

Grape Creek, CA

(California Fish Passage Forum)
Conservation Action: Grape Creek, located in the Russian River watershed, is NOAA’s first Habitat Focus Area as part of the 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.

Lake Conroe, TX

(Reservoir Fish Habitat Partnership)
Conservation Action: The Habitat Enhancements for Fisheries and Ecosystem Improvement at Lake Conroe, Texas project is designed to provide self-sustaining and expanding habitat improvements that will continue to improve the Lake Conroe ecosystem for fish, wildlife, and human uses.  The native vegetation component has and will continue to mitigate the increasing effects of urbanization (nutrient enrichment, sedimentation, etc.) in the watershed with little or no additional expenses to residents and other users.   Direct measures of success include the number of native aquatic plants produced and transferred to the reservoir (over 3,000 to date) and reduction in harmful exotic aquatic vegetation

Leech Lake, MN

(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.

Millennium Reserve Initiative, IL

(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.

Upper Tippecanoe River, IN

(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 Partnership’s objectives.

For more information on project maps and descriptions of the 10 Waters to Watch list for 2013, Click HERE.

Visit the 2013 Waters to Watch Homepage for more information.

Logo courtesy National Fish Habitat Partnership

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