Bayou Bartholomew the Forgotten Watershed?
Corps Of Engineers Southeast Arkansas Feasibility Study
and its one-million acre watershed, begins its
journey northwest of the city of Pine Bluff, Arkansas in the Harding community, and
flows approximately 375 miles crossing the Louisiana border joining the Ouachita River.
is the longest bayou in the world.
Lined with majestic cypress and tupelo swamps,
inhabited by alligators, turtles and frogs, visited by wintering waterfowl, containing
over one-hundred and
seventeen species of fishes, Bartholomew is truly a wonder of nature
remaining natural with few improvements.
The Bayou Bartholomew Watershed of Arkansas and Louisiana is
one of the nationís most unique places on earth. 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.
Bayou Bartholomew is
considered a conservation priority by
The Nature Conservancy 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
3) it may support the most diverse assemblage (103 species)
of freshwater fish of any stream system in North America
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.
A bayou (pronounced Byoo or Byoh) is a shallow, curving channel filled with slow
moving, sometimes stagnant, water. The name was used by French settlers of the lower
Mississippi River, its delta and the adjacent drainage areas of Louisiana, Texas and
Mississippi. The term bayou is seldom used outside this area. It may have derived from the
French word boyau meaning channel. The word bayou describes an abandoned river channel, a
slow moving stream draining a swamp or shallow lake or an oxbow (horseshoe-shaped) lake.
The name Bartholomew is attributed to the predominantly French speaking Catholic
settlers of the lower Mississippi River Valley. True to their faith, they paid homage to
Saint Bartholomew by naming the bayou in his honor
Archaeologists make the point that Bayou Bartholomew, as well as all the adjacent
"oxbow bend" brakes, was once, a long time ago, a part of the Arkansas River
before the river swings eastward to meet the Mississippi River on the east side of Desha
Bayou Bartholomew may have been forgotten If it were not for the vision of Dr.Curtis
Bartholomew Alliance was incorporated in October of 1995 as a nonprofit
organization. It was Dr. Curtis Merrells concern for this resource which started the
formation of a group of citizens, landowners and others who share the vision of Dr.
Merrell and the importance of this unique southern stream.
Bayou Bartholomew has problems created by man which cause its
water to be of a lesser quality than what it could be. Activities which lead to water
quality problems or loss of habitats include urban development which removes the trees
along the stream bank. This causes bank erosion and increases in stream temperature which
leads to stress on aquatic organisms.
Some remember the bayou from bridge crossings as the muddy illegal dumping sites of
everything from worn out furniture, garbage, pesticide barrels, old cars, farm machinery
to you name it.
Farming activities have also lead to problems for the stream by denuding stream banks
or allowing soil erosion to occur. These same activities lead to loss of fish and wildlife
habitat. These concerns and a desire to improve the situation led to the establishment of
the Bayou Bartholomew
Alliance. This non-profit organization has brought together representatives of many
different areas of interests including agriculture/forestry, environmental, recreational,
industrial and others to preserve water quality, improve the beauty of the Bayou, enhance
wildlife and fish habitat and related recreational pursuits, educate the public about the
historical and ecological significance of this resource, and to improve overall benefits
to landowners adjacent to the Bayou.
Since 2004 thirteen sites are sampled each year from
above Pine Bluff down to near the Louisiana border at Parkdale. Numbers
of fishes collected at each site are recorded along with species of
Over 117 species of
fish have been found in Bayou Bartholomew and at least 40
species of mussels, including more than half of all mussel species known
in Louisiana and at least three mussel species currently listed by the
federal government as endangered or threatened.
Good populations of both largemouth and spotted bass throughout the
of the bayou were found. The 117 species of fish found in
the Bartholomew makes it the second most diverse stream in North
America for fish species.
Some sites had great concentrations of crappie with many going 3/4 of a
Most sites continue to see species diversity increasing as work on the
bayou continues. Utilizing electro-fishing thirteen
sites are sampled each year from above Pine Bluff down to near the
Louisiana border at Parkdale. Numbers of fishes collected at each site
are recorded along with species of fishes. Fish that are collected are
weighed and measured and then released back into the stream. Most sites continue to see species diversity
increasing as work on the bayou continues. Fishes such as river redhorse
that were extremely rare in the Bayou 10 years ago are becoming common.
College students who have helped with sampling included Aria Ralston (Brigham Young University), Mark Tanner (BYU), and Georgia Bailey
(SEARK, Pine Bluff), all summer employees of Layher Bio-Logics RTEC,
Inc. Derrick Grant (UAPB) and Bonnie Earlywine (UCA, Conway) who were
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission summer interns.