The Effect of the Lake Chicot Renovation Project on the Fishery of a Mississippi River Oxbow Lake

A renovation project on Lake Chicot, a 1,417-ha Arkansas oxbow lake, was undertaken to improve water quality and fisheries productivity negatively impacted by surrounding agricultural land and ensuing drainage. A 1920s levee and drainage project that added 90,653-ha of catchment area to the inflow of Lake Chicot also increased agricultural acreage from 10% to 80% of the lake's watershed. This resulted in a substantial increase in turbidity in the lake (from 40 to 400 NTU), negatively affecting the sportfish populations, especially the largemouth bass. In the late 1980s, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission initially aided lake water quality by drawing down the lake and seeding the exposed lake bottom. A fish population adjustment using rotenone was also conducted by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to bring back a desirable lake fishery. In excess of 70,500 kg of fish, mostly shad, stunted catfish, carp and buffalo, were removed from the lake. The Corps of Engineers constructed a multimillion dollar diversion system and pumping plant to divert turbid and polluted water from an agricultural watershed from entering the lake. This cooperative program reduced turbidity, total solids and suspended solids significantly. Better water quality resulted in positive changes to key species in the lake's fishery, especially largemouth bass, bluegill, and channel catfish. As a result, the state's largest natural lake is once again a productive sport fishery attracting instate and out-of-state recreationists.

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