News

1992.08.07 2s"United We Stand" SOS Election Morning by Eric Beggs, 1992

It’s been twenty-five years of saving our springs. And, “It’s now or never, again.”

Here in Austin we are blessed with a natural wonder of global significance: Barton Springs, the fourth largest spring in Texas, home to two endangered aquatic salamanders, sourced by a cave-forming, karstic limestone aquifer more vulnerable to pollution than any other aquifer in Texas.

The capital was located here in large part because Barton Springs provided a reliable source of drinking water.   Quite literally, we are here because the springs are here.   They are the life-source of our city. If we lose Barton Springs, we lose Austin and our place here on Earth.

More than half a million locals and tourists every year enjoy swimming and snorkeling in and sunbathing beside Barton’s cold clear waters, sharing the waters with largemouth bass, blue gill, cormorants, ducks, herons, kingfishers, the mysterious salamanders and river eels, and many other native species. The springs connect us, residents and visitors alike, to the real world, the one that was here before us.

Since the 1970s Austinite's have banded together to protect Barton Springs from urban development and the pollution it brings. These citizen group advocates have included the Zilker Park Posse; Zilker and Barton Hills neighborhood associations; Austin Sierra Club; Save Barton Creek Association; Earth First!; Clean Water Action; Citizen Action; Hill Country Foundation;   and, since 1992, the Save Our Springs Alliance.

This year is a landmark and potential turning point in our community campaign to save our springs. Twenty-five years ago this week, Austin voters cast their ballots by a two-to-one margin in favor of the citizen initiated “Save Our Springs” ordinance. Developers and the Chamber of Commerce spent vast sums opposing the ordinance, insisting that it would chase away employers and jobs. Since the SOS ordinance passed, our economy has boomed. The Texas Supreme Court upheld the ordinance as valid, but developers won grandfathering legislation (signed by then Governor Bush) that has exempted much of the development that has occurred in the Barton Springs watershed since 1992.

Austin’s SOS movement didn’t rest with the ordinance election. Out of the SOS PAC, we incorporated the Save Our Springs Alliance in November 1992. In the years that followed, we won “endangered” status for the Barton Springs and Austin Blind salamanders. We pushed for and won Austin voter approval for City bonds to permanently protect more than 30,000 acres of Barton Springs watershed land. Working with East Austin allies, we forced Austin Community College through litigation and community to build the Eastview Campus in East Austin instead of building a new campus for developers in far southwest Austin.

This year and next we need our City and County officials to commit more funds to buy more watershed protection land before it’s too late: it’s far cheaper to save the Barton Springs watershed than pave it with billion dollar toll road expansions intended to serve sprawl development that will further pollute our springs.   More than half of the Barton Springs watershed is neither protected nor developed; the future of the springs remains up for grabs, but time is running short for action.

We need our elected officials to stand with SOS and our Keep Mopac Local coalition allies and stop the conversion of Mopac into a second Interstate 35 through Austin and over the Barton Springs recharge zone. Across the region, we need to use the pavement we have more efficiently with current emerging technologies, and stop wasting billions and billions on road projects that make traffic worse, not better. While we have an educated work force and community, we have a regional transportation plan that would spend $35 billion over the next 25 years, the traffic projected to get almost ten times worse. That’s a real dumb plan.

We also need a city council majority to say “No” to any version of “CodeNext” that fails to protect all of our watersheds, prevent flooding and erosion in all of our watersheds, and move Austin aggressively toward catching, using and reusing our rainfall to create an integrated, water and energy neutral future. Hyper-growth not only threatens Barton Springs, but much of what we love the most about Austin, including our ability to afford to live here.

A new land development code can only do so much to protect our home waters or make Austin more safe or affordable. The wrong code changes could make matters worse, and irreversibly so. SOS is working closely with the “Community Not Commodity” coalition of neighborhood and environmental interests to make sure CodeNext actually improves current city development standards or is shelved under the “first, do no harm” rule.

With the continual growth in population we are experiencing, it is critical that we expand our outreach and education efforts to inform newcomers on the importance and the threats to Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer. We also encourage you to talk to friends, family and colleagues about the history and science of our local treasures. The Splash! Exhibit at Barton Springs is a wonderful place to visit with new citizens and others that are interested in learning. Also, plan to attend Barton Springs University on September 26th. It will be a full day of learning sessions, hands on activities and fun at Barton Springs pool.

Finally, with both the State of Texas and the Trump Administration turning aggressively hostile towards environmental protection, SOS must continue and expand our legal and policy advocacy. Litigation has been and always will be a course of last resort. But the courts must be challenged to serve their “check and balance” function when the Executive Branch at both the state and federal level are openly flaunting our federal environmental protection laws in the course of funding and approving projects that will pollute and deplete Barton Springs flows.

As we look back and celebrate the 64 percent of Austin voters who said “yes” to saving our springs on August 8, 1992, we also look forward to being part of a new green movement that is local, regional and global. Thank you for being part of the save our springs movement. We hope you will stay with us in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

If you are able to make a special 25th anniversary donation to SOS, please do. Your tax-deductible donation will allow SOS and its scientists, lawyers, educators, and citizen activists to do what is necessary to save our springs. Please also be willing to speak up at key meetings and with email messages and phone calls to officials. Volunteer when able.

Look for us at the springs; keep up with our email news; and stay tuned for details on Barton Springs University, and an anniversary celebration in November.

Remember, it takes a community to save a community spring. It’s more fun than watching TV or surfing the web. And, as Austin’s original eco-warrior, songwriter, and national treasure Bill Oliver tells us, “It’s now or never, again.”

Sincerely, Save Our Springs Alliance