Austin voters will be asked to approve Proposition B, a $460 million bond dedicated to enhancing active transportation infrastructure, which includes significant funding for new sidewalks, bike lanes, urban trails, and other safety-related improvements. After careful consideration of the projects included within the bond proposition and the potential benefits for active transportation, the Save Our Springs Alliance has decided to formally endorse Proposition B and encourages its members to vote “YES” on Proposition B. Read the official board statement here.
Kyle Residents, SOS File Suit Over Sweetheart Development Agreement
Lawsuit Claims Kyle City Council Violated Texas Open Meetings Act & Texas Constitution
On Tuesday, September 15, 2020, three Kyle residents and the Save Our Springs Alliance filed suit against the City of Kyle to prevent the implementation of a development agreement that locks in exorbitant development entitlements for a massive, 3200+ acre development located on the banks of the Blanco River and over the Edwards Aquifer.
The lawsuit has two main claims: (i) that the Kyle City Council’s approvals of the Nance-Bradshaw Ranch development agreement and related actions violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by failing to provide prior public notice of the agreement’s provisions; and (ii) that the development agreement contracted away to private developers the City of Kyle’s police powers to manage growth, in violation of the Texas Constitution.
After months of backroom dealing, on May 3, 2016, Kyle city staff presented the Kyle City Council with a development agreement to govern the annexation and development of the Nance-Bradshaw Ranch, a 3,268.6 area of land, located mostly along the west bank of the Blanco River. The 101-page draft development agreement was distributed to the City Council only minutes before the May 3rd meeting began. No backup information was included with the agenda item, and the public was never provided a copy of the draft agreement prior to the vote.
As the lawsuit points out, the posting language lacked the basic components for public notice required by the Texas Open Meetings Act, including the location of the property and the subject matter of the agreement. Despite not having time to read the development agreement, the Kyle City Council voted 4-2 to approve it.
“The two council members that voted ‘no’ explained from the dais that they weren’t even given a copy of the agreement until minutes before the meeting started,” explained Lila Knight, a Kyle resident and lead plaintiff listed on the lawsuit. “Not only did the public not have an opportunity to review the agreement, but the council members themselves had no idea what they were voting on. They didn’t have time to read it.”
Even though the property is zoned for “agricultural uses,” the development agreement guarantees the owners the absolute right to develop the property with up to 9,000 “living unit equivalents”. The agreement remains in effect for up to 45 years and locks in the owners’ rights to develop the property however they see fit, binding future city councils from making any zoning decision that would affect the development of the property without the owners’ consent
“This is a plain case of unconstitutional contract zoning,” explained Bill Bunch, Executive Director of the Save Our Springs Alliance. “The Texas Constitution guarantees that voters have the right to elect representatives to manage the City’s growth through zoning, budgeting, and overall city planning; the Kyle City Council cannot contract away that legislative authority.”
Prior to approving the challenged agreement, Kyle’s city limits were located entirely on the northeast side of the Blanco River. This development agreement expands the city westward across the Blanco River, incorporating approximately 3,000 acres of the Nance Bradshaw Ranch along the river’s southwest bank and over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. The development agreement commits the City to seek local, state and federal funding to build a new bridge to provide access and develop these environmentally sensitive lands with well-over 6,000 new homes and associated commercial development.
The bridge would extend Cypress Road, which turns into Center Street and provides the most direct route from the 3,268 acres to I-35, through downtown Kyle. No traffic impact analysis was prepared for the development agreement.
“This was a backroom deal, hidden from the public, with no real thought for what it means for the environment, city finances, or city traffic,” said Ms. Knight.
“This agreement, with its thousands of acres of ‘build whatever you want’ development and the bridge over the Blanco River abandons decades of planning that focuses growth for Hays County and the City of Kyle along the I-35 corridor. It would literally pave the way for unmanaged sprawl in one of the most environmentally sensitive and currently rural areas in our region.”
The lawsuit also seeks to enjoin the City from spending millions of dollars of taxpayer and ratepayer funds to expand roadway and utility infrastructure to support the development. The City of Kyle has projected that the new development would add up to 25,000 new residents to the City, a 50% increase over its estimated population, requiring significant, future financial investments by the City and its taxpayers and utility ratepayers.
 A “living unit equivalent” is a unit of measurement tied to the typical amount of water used by a single-family residence located in a standard subdivision; for example, a single-family lot would be equivalent to one LUE, while a condominium unit might only represent one-half LUE.
Please Send a tax-deductible donation to SOS Alliance today so that we can continue legal advocacy work to protect the Edwards Aquifer and to promote open, honest government and participatory democracy.
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Excrement happens. We all poop and pee. For most of us, our body wastes wind their way to a treatment plant, where biological, chemical, and physical processes remove some of the waste, convert some of it to less harmful forms, and then discharge what’s left to a nearby creek or river. For other communities, the treated wastewater is kept out of our streams, irrigated on fields or other landscaped areas and/or reused in other ways.
The discharge of municipal sewage to our nation’s waters persists despite a bipartisan Congress voting overwhelmingly in 1972 for a national goal to “eliminate discharges” of pollutants to our nation’s waters by 1985. That goal remains a cornerstone of the federal Clean Water Act to this day.
A case in point: yesterday Liberty Hill, Texas, a small town in far western Williamson County, was in the news again for its fouling of the South San Gabriel River. The photos and drone footage show exactly what happens when treated sewage is discharged into to our crystal-clear Hill Country waters.
As a last resort, our friends at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and downstream neighbors filed an official notice of their intent to sue Liberty Hill for thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act. SOS Alliance has assisted this effort, and we will help some more if needed.
Meanwhile, in Blanco, last week the City Council responded to hundreds of requests from citizens and conservation groups to create a task force to advise the City on its wastewater future. The goal of the task force is to find a path forward that keeps all of the City’s wastewater out of the Blanco River and put to beneficial reuse. THANK YOU!! to everyone who sent an email or phoned Blanco’s mayor and council urging them to pursue the task force and eliminate its river discharge.
At the same time, the Blanco council refused to put on hold its application to the TCEQ for a permit to discharge over a million gallons per day of sewage into the Blanco River. Continuing to spend money to pollute its namesake river makes little sense; it suggests a majority of the council believes the task force will not help the City “eliminate discharge” to the river as Congress implored almost 50 years ago.
How is it that today, in 2020, so many local officials make every kind of excuse and explanation for why their (our) sewage is not really causing the problem, or its only a small part of the problem, or that “it costs too much to fix it”? Downstream neighbors, native fish, people who enjoy swimming and fishing don’t add up to much in this equation. Too often, voters – poopers – let them off the hook.
Every day, usually a few times a day, behind closed doors, we contribute our share to the problem. We flush and forget. We pay our bills, cast our votes, and keep on pooping, without demanding that our elected officials take action to keep our own waste out of our nation’s rivers and streams. It’s time for Texas, at least central Texas, and for each of us to take action now to restore our rivers and eliminate our discharges to the waters of the United States.
Please take a few minutes to send an email to the City of Blanco City Council before next Tuesday asking them to call a “time out” on their pending permit application to increase the City’s authorized wastewater discharge to the Blanco River. The Blanco City Council is set to have a work session on its wastewater application next Tuesday, August 25, at 5:30 p.m.
Here are the key facts on this urgent and important issue.
Currently Blanco treats about 225,000 gallons per day of municipal sewage. Sometimes this treated sewage is discharged to the river just above the FM 165 bridge (aka the Henly cutoff). When this happens, nasty algae blooms take over the river downstream, under the 165 bridge and downstream. (If you have 34 minutes, watch this science report on what nutrient pollution from treated municipal sewage does to our Hill Country streams.)
Mostly, however, Blanco has irrigated its treated wastewater on pasture land, keeping its sewage out of the river. The City has applied for a state permit that would authorize it to discharge up to 1.6 million gallons of treated sewage every day into the river.
The Blanco River is a major source of Barton Springs flows during drought conditions; it supplies critical recharge flows to San Marcos Springs under higher flow conditions.
Save Our Springs Alliance has been working with the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association and Protect Our Blanco to convince the City to abandon its expanded discharge permit proposal, to reduce its request to only that amount needed to serve near term development within Blanco, and to commit to a “no discharge” and “total reuse” future for its treated wastewater. The Blanco City Council has new membership and we are encouraged by their willingness to reconsider the City’s push for a river discharge permit.
Science News Flash -- In response to Blanco’s permit application, last year SOS commissioned a biological and nutrient study of the Blanco River at Blanco by Baylor University professor Dr. Ryan King. You can now watch Professor King’s presentation of his Blanco River research results here.
Professor King is the leading scientist researching the effects of nutrient pollution (from municipal sewage and agricultural runoff) on aquatic ecosystems in Texas. King’s 34 minute presentation on his Blanco River research is the best science primer on why we must keep treated sewage out of our crystal clear Hill Country streams.
It’s actually not a hard thing to do.
The most common method for managing municipal sewage in the Hill Country for decades has been to treat and then irrigate the wastewater on fields, golf courses, or other landscaped areas. It’s only been in recent years – when TCEQ and EPA have shown they don’t care what the law or science says about discharging treated sewage into our creeks and rivers – that developers and small cities have sought TCEQ approval to dump their sewage into our Hill Country streams.
SOS is committed to making the Clean Water Act and science matter, once again. (Make our rivers clean again!) We have appealed the TCEQ permit that approved the City of Dripping Springs discharging its sewage into Onion Creek to the courthouse. Now we are opposing the Blanco discharge proposal with the best science, law, policy, and collaborative advocacy that we can muster.
With your help we can convince the Blanco City Council that a “no discharge” future is the best for its residents, its river, and its ratepayers. Please send an email to the Blanco City Council, watch Professor King’s presentation, and, if you are able, send a tax-deductible donation to SOS Alliance today so that we can continue our work keeping treated sewage out of our rivers, springs, and aquifers.
Two weeks ago President Trump signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act, which will provide $9 billion over the next 5 years to address the backlog in repairs and upgrades to national park and wildlife refuge facilities and $900 million annually to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF provides funding for the acquisition and expansion of national, state, and local parks. The new law has been recognized as the most important land conservation legislation in decades.
The Act won overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate (75-23) and the House (310-107), although both Texas Senators Cornyn and Cruz and Central Texas Congressmen Chip Roy, John Carter, and Michael McCaul voted against the Act.
The bipartisan win reflects the solid public support that our national parks have across the nation, but especially in the west, and also the importance that voters of all stripes place on getting outside and connecting to nature, with or without a pandemic.
Then, last Tuesday, the Hays County Commissioners Court voted to place a $75 million bond on the November ballot that would fund the acquisition of parks and conservation easements and the construction of parks facilities. THANK YOU!! to everyone who contacted Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra and the County Commissioners to urge their support for this ballot measure.
Please spread the word to all Hays County voters you may know to “vote yes” on this ballot measure in November. Several of the projects the bond would fund will, together, preserve forever a few thousand acres of Edwards Aquifer recharge and contributing zone lands.
Tesla Gigafactory Invites Colorado River Protection Plan – Read Austin sci-fi writer Christopher Brown’s op-ed calling for the Tesla project to spur the creation of a protected Colorado River corridor from Longhorn Dam to Bastrop County.
On July 29, 2020, the Austin City Council, led by District 10 City Council Member Alison Alter, voted unanimously to proceed with eminent domain proceedings to acquire 11.39 acres of land along Bull Creek, near Spicewood Springs Road. During last week’s meeting, SOS joined with other environmental groups such as Clean Water Action, Save Barton Creek Association, Environment Texas, and the Sierra Club to encourage the council to act quickly to protect this environmentally sensitive property.
From an environmental perspective, this is a unique property. It is located entirely within the Critical Water Quality Zone and Water Quality Transition Zone of Bull Creek (one of Austin’s drinking supply watersheds), and it is also almost entirely encumbered by floodplain. By acquiring this property, the City Council will help mitigate future flooding risks downstream and avoid increases in stormwater runoff contaminants and erosion that might occur if the site were to be developed with the proposed hotel use.
City-ownership of this land will also be a huge benefit for endangered and threatened species habitat. Although this parcel will not officially be part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (“BCP”) system, it has been on environmental advocates’ radar for many years as an important acquisition to help complete the goals of the BCCP habitat conservation plan and permit. Completing the acreage preservation requirement of the Bull Creek macro-site is one of the last remaining requirements of the BCCP masterplan and the City’s obligations under the BCCP permit. After acquisition, SOS will encourage the City’s Parks Department to work with the BCCP to restore some of the tree canopy that once existed on the property for the benefit of the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo; however, even without these habitat restoration activities, preservation of the land would be a huge benefit to protect the springs that are immediately downstream of this property, which is habitat for other threatened species, such as the Jollyville Plateau Salamander.
We would also like to take a moment to re-thank Rep. Erin Zweiner, whose last-minute parliamentary skills, during the last legislative session, helped kill a harmful bill (HB 3750) that would have removed the City of Austin’s ability to regulate water quality on sites like this one, in the City’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. Without Rep. Zweiner’s action, this site would more than likely be a large-scale, luxury hotel, with buildings scattering the creek’s edge.
As Austin’s water watchdog, the Save Our Springs Alliance will continue to promote the protection of Austin’s watersheds. We are appreciative of every member of the Austin City Council for recognizing the opportunities of acquiring this property, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Council to protect creeks all throughout Austin.
UPDATESJuly 2, 2020
Due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases and the projected trajectory of COVID related hospitalizations, beginning on Monday, July 6, all facilities and park amenities will remain closed. This includes facilities previously reopened such as cultural facilities, pools, golf courses, tennis facilities, park concessions, and other amenities.
All in-person programming for the month of July will be suspended including sports and fitness programming, summer camps, and cultural programming. In addition, the Barton Creek and Bull Creek greenbelts will remain closed. Parks will remain open; however, all amenities (e.g. volleyball courts, tennis courts, playgrounds, disc golf courses, etc) will be closed except for restrooms and water fountains.
City of Austin parks and trails (except for those listed above) will remain open; however, rules regarding mask use and social distancing continue to apply. PARD Rangers will continue to patrol parks and help educate park uses for voluntary compliance.
Due to the pandemic and closer of Barton Springs, all SOS eco-tours and hikes will remain cancelled throughout the summer. Barton Springs University scheduled for September is also cancelled.
On Thursday, June 25th at 2:00 p.m. Travis County District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble will hear our appeal of TCEQ’s permit authorizing Dripping Springs to discharge over 800,000 gallons per day of treated sewage into Onion Creek.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the hearing will occur via video conference. The public can watch the hearing live via the Court’s YouTube channel. Please note that you will only be able to watch the hearing in real time—the Court’s broadcast will be deleted from YouTube immediately after the hearing has ended. Video or audio recording by members of the public is prohibited.
The hearing will consist of oral arguments from attorneys for SOS Alliance, the TCEQ, and the City of Dripping Springs. The entire hearing will last 2 to 3 hours.
Our primary argument is that the permit violates Clean Water Act standards prohibiting degradation of high quality waters like Onion Creek and all of our Hill Country streams.
Last week we filed our closing, or reply, brief. You can read our brief here.
This case is important not just for Onion Creek and Barton Springs. The court’s ruling will largely determine whether our clear Hill Country streams are, in fact, fair game for treated sewage discharges, as the TCEQ has assumed them to be in recent years. This fact led several other organizations opposing proposed discharges to other Hill Country streams to file a “friends of the court” brief in support of our appeal. Read that brief here.
SOS Reaches Agreement with Stratus Properties over New Project, Protecting Land in the Barton Springs Zone
Stratus Properties (“Stratus”) owns some of the largest areas of land within the Barton Springs Zone. They own land all throughout Southwest Austin, including the site of the notorious 4,000-acre Barton Creek PUD, which was the catalyst of the SOS movement 30 years ago, when more than 800 Austin residents rallied to protect Barton Springs from overdevelopment. Oftentimes, the inherent conflict between developer profits and our mission to protect the water quality of Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer puts SOS at odds with developers, like Stratus. But, this is not one of those days.
SOS is pleased to share the news that we have reached an agreement with Stratus that will help protect approximately 10 acres of land from commercial development and will reduce the total amount of impervious cover (i.e., pavement) that can be built in the immediate area surrounding the new apartment complex by 6.9 acres.
The development in question is the last phase of a five-phase development at the southwest corner of William Cannon and Southwest Parkway (7415 Southwest Parkway) in the area known as Lantana. In exchange for being able to convert their approved office project to multi-family housing, Stratus has agreed to reduce the overall imperious cover of their planned project to 25% net site area (from 60% NSA), by dedicating additional developable lands towards land conservation immediately to the project’s south. This would be functionally equivalent to the limits required under the SOS Ordinance.
While this is certainly not an ideal scenario, and we would of course prefer full compliance with all existing environmental regulations, the unique circumstances surrounding this site, including an approved site plan for an office development, make it much more likely that the developer would proceed with construction of the approved office park than leave the land undeveloped. Under such a scenario, we protect no additional lands, get no parkland dedication, and end up with more impervious cover.
SOS would like to thank Stratus for working with us on mitigating the environmental impacts of their planned development, by dedicating additional lands towards conservation purposes, beyond even what was recommended by the initial City of Austin recommendation.
That said, there is still much more work to do. Every year, SOS is notified about dozens of new developments attempting to take advantage of outdated environmental regulations and skirt the will of Austin’s voters by trying to exempt themselves from compliance with the SOS Ordinance.
The SOS Alliance was formed to be the watchdog protecting Austin’s groundwater, creeks and springs. Seeking compliance with Austin’s environmental regulations is a big part of that, and we will continue to pressure developers (and the City) to protect our limited resources.
Barton Springs Pool will reopen Tuesday, June 9th, four days a week; Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On those days, the pool will open from 5 – 7 am for swim-at-your-own risk and then open for reservations between 8 am. and 10 pm. During the modified COVID-19 operations, no admission fees will be charged.
Anyone who bought a Summer 2020 swim pass and would like a refund should email firstname.lastname@example.org including their current address and where and how they paid for the pass.
We would like to thank City of Austin Parks and Recreation and the pool staff for their hard work in getting the pool open and safe.
Please see the instructions for reservations, safety rules and other information below:
• Reservation required: go to www.Austintexas.gov/parksonline- if you do not have an account you can easily create one – go to browse tickets/park and pool passes then to ticket search for date and keyword Barton Springs – choose date and front or back gate – continue to shopping card and check out – ticket will be emailed to you – no charge
o No fee required while under modified operations
o If you do not have access to a cell phone or computer phone reservations are available seven days a week from 8am to 5pm, at 512-974-9330
o Initially reservations to be available one-week prior
o Capacity has been limited
o Reservations are only available to persons identified as in your household through account creation
o You must enter at the gate associated with your ticket
• Screening required before entry to facility which includes temperature testing
o Patrons will confirm they have not been experiencing COVID symptoms for the last 72 hour
o Patrons receive wristband after successful screening
o Screening begins 30 minutes prior to entering the facility
• Showers and Changing areas not available
o Under the current guidelines set forth by The State of Texas regulations/Orders, we are restricting access to changing rooms and showers. You are only permitted to use the toilet areas and sinks. We ask that individuals not utilize toilet areas as changing areas. Please come to the facility ready to swim.
• Guests required to wear a cloth face covering while in the facility when not actively swimming/submerging underwater
• Swim at your own risk
o Every day of the week, including closure days
o 5a-7a only
• Closure days are Monday, Wednesday and Thursday
• Facility Entry/Exit
o Northside Primary entrance is being relocated to the “side gate” for reservation swim times
o Exiting on the northside will occur out the turnstiles or out the traditional entry way for ADA access
o Staircases on the north side of the pool have been designated as one-directional
o South side entrance remains the same
o Swim at your own risk can enter through traditional gates
We look forward to jumping into Barton Springs again!
Please follow all rules and stay safe.
Were You There?
As you can see, Esther's Follies legend Shannon Sedwick was there, telling the truth and cracking us up.
Thirty years ago, on June 7th, 1990, over 1000 citizens showed up at Austin City Hall to protest the "Barton Creek PUD," a 4,000 acre development proposed for the banks of Barton Creek by Freeport McMoRan, a global mining company that was the single largest discharger of toxic pollutants into the waters of the United States. Austin citizens from all walks of life took their allotted 3 minutes to tell the city council to vote "no" on the massive development proposal. After taking testimony throughout the night, the City Council voted unanimously the next morning to deny the development approval. The event triggered Austin's "save our springs" movement followed by the passing of the SOS Ordinance in 1992.
We are excited to be celebrating 30 years of citizen advocacy and the birth of the Save Our Springs movement on June 7th! Were you at City Hall on that historic day? Did you listen in from home on KUT? We want to hear your story. What do you remember? What changed for you or someone you know after that night? Please send us your experience in an email or in a short video (no more than 90 seconds) to SOSInfo@SOSAlliance.org. Share a photo or two as well, if you have them. Be sure to include your name and phone number. If you know someone who was there, please pass this along to them.
We'll be reminiscing a bit between now and June 7th, and planning a virtual reunion that day. Mark your calendar and please jump in with your memories.
Pound the PUD!!
P.S. If you are able, please consider a contribution to Esther's Follies' Performers Fund. We gotta save Esther's pool -- Shanon, Michael Shelton, Ray Anderson and their cast mates are essential Austin. We can't afford to lose them.
Watch the condensed 30 minute video of the hearing HERE.
Lot's of us are wondering when Barton Springs Pool might reopen. The word from City of Austin staff is that the Parks & Rec Department is working with the City's Health Department, city leaders and others on a phased opening plan for all of the City's swimming pools. Timing and details of the phased opening will be subject to the best judgment of these officials.
The City's current "Stay Home, Work Safe" orders extend to May 30. Thus, Barton Springs will not open before some time in June. It could be later. We'll stay in touch with Parks staff and let our springs friends know as soon as we hear something more definitive. Let's all be safe and patient, and enjoy the beautiful weather, with safely-distanced walking, hiking, bike riding, and swimming in the Highland Lakes when we are able.
It was perhaps the most important Chronicle cover ever. With the Chronicle cover, plenty of chatter from KUT DJ' John Aielli and the for-profit morning radio talk jocks as well as paid radio ads from Austin environmentalists, the word definitely got around. Six days later over 1000 people showed up at City Hall to tell Mayor Lee Cooke and the City Council to vote "No PUD."
Read Daryl Slusher's key piece from that day 30 years ago here. And don't miss Scott Henson's and Tom Philpott's sidebar that follows Daryl's piece: "Freeport McMoRan: Number One With a Toxic Bullet"
Stay tuned this week in the run up to Saturday's 30th anniversary celebration of the all night City Council meeting that gave birth to the Save Our Springs movement. Share your memories with us if you were there (email@example.com). And join with us as we take stock of where we are 30 years later in the continuing struggle to save our springs.
Most of us love Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi.
Here in the heart of Texas, we’ve lived it for three decades—a bulldozing bender, with the constant promise that if we keep spending billions on more roads and bigger highways, then our traffic problems will be solved. But, traffic just gets worse. And, more of what we love gets lost, all at once or in small increments, the unavoidable side effects of urban sprawl.
Then, a terrible pandemic comes along. We are forced to stay at home—take a breath. The air clears. The traffic disappears. You can hear the birds, the wind, and neighborhood kids playing outside.
As Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner and Save Our Springs co-founder, recently observed, the coronavirus pandemic has shown us we don’t have to pave our Austin paradise with the false promise of reducing congestion. Employers, both public and private, can and should continue telecommuting practices made mandatory during this pandemic. These measures don’t have to be as extreme, once Covid-19 passes; but letting more people work from home on more days, combined with staggered work hours to avoid rush hour jam ups and other strategies that reduce driving, can pretty much solve our traffic problems.
These strategies cost very little. They reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion, without pavement and pollution.
Most of the $42+ billion in tax dollars that our transportation leaders at CAMPO want us to cough up over the next 25 years could be saved and redirected. Instead of paving hundreds of miles of concrete, we could invest in other critical needs, such as public education, affordable housing, reliable health care, and saving our Hill Country home from global heating.
The worst part of the plan calls for spending over $4.2 billion to build new roads and expand existing ones over the Edwards Aquifer watershed in southwest Travis and western Hays counties.
For a fraction of the $4.2 billion that CAMPO wants us to spend expanding roads and building new ones within the Edwards Aquifer watershed, we could expand our parks and watershed protection lands in southwest Travis and western Hays counties, protecting the life source of Austin, Buda, Kyle, and San Marcos forever. The simple fact is that it is far cheaper to save rather than pave the Edwards Aquifer watershed in southwest Travis and western Hays Counties.
Overwhelmingly, residents and voters prefer that southwest Travis and western Hays County stay rural and scenic, protecting our beautiful Hill Country home waters.
CAMPO staff justifies this $4.2 billion plan to pave roads across the aquifer by projecting that the population within the Hays County segment of the Edwards Aquifer watershed will increase by 450% in the 30 years from 2015 to 2045, growing from 79,000 to 433,000. But, CAMPO’s own data shows that the actual growth trend in western Hays County would more likely yield 54% growth, or 122,000 by 2045. (See the numbers here.)
CAMPO’s vision for the future of the Hill Country is bleak—paved, polluted, and pumped dry.
In our age of global heating, it’s time to stop paving the countryside with roads we don’t need and that encourage more driving, not less. The last month has shown us that telecommuting, staggered work days, and other traffic demand management strategies can unclog our roads, clean up our air, and help us avoid billions in unnecessary road construction.
No one wanted or needed the coronavirus pandemic. The pain and death it brings, here at home and across the planet, was unimaginable just a few months ago. But, we can learn from it.. Writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit’s book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster explains how people, working together, can shape the futures they (we) want when recovering from catastrophe. It’s a better future that bubbles up from people working together, often against powerful forces that only want to go back to how things were, paving paradise and putting up parking lots (both linear and square).Please join us today with a small step toward shaping a better future for our Hill Country home by speaking up on the CAMPO 2045 draft plan, with your own message or with one we have suggested here. And if you are able during these difficult times, please consider a tax-deductible donation to support our work here at Save Our Springs Alliance. Stay safe, but please do get outside and enjoy the beautiful springtime that surrounds us.
Thank you to everyone who filed a public comment on the CAMPO 2045 long-range transportation plan for the Austin metro region! You are free to comment again—and we hope those of you who have not yet commented will join in.
Please take a few minutes to send in your comments. We have written suggested comments, but please modify these with your own personal comments as you see fit.
For now, the public comment period is set to close this Monday, April 20. However, Travis County, SOS Alliance, and many others have asked that the comment period be extended for at least another couple of months. We have also asked that the May 4 vote on the draft plan be postponed accordingly.
The CAMPO 2045 draft plan that is posted for public comment period remains incomplete. Also, with only one week left in the official public comment period, the most fundamental piece of public information on the draft 25-year plan—an accurate map of the projects in the plan—is still missing.
If you go to the CAMPO2045.org website on the draft plan, and then click on the View Projects in the Plan link you get this map. The map does not show several of the new roads proposed in the draft plan. These missing proposed new roads include some of the worst projects in the plan: a proposed extension of Escarpment Boulevard from Circle C down to FM 150 in Hays County (crossing City of Austin watershed protection lands); a proposed loop around Dripping Springs in the Barton Creek and Onion Creek watersheds; and a proposed new alignment of Jacob’s Well Road next to the Jacob’s Well Natural Area; but these road projects, all within the Edwards Aquifer watershed, remain buried in the 49-page long CAMPO 2045 draft plan projects list.
(View this excellent map and chart that we prepared showing the more than $4 billion in road projects the 2045 draft plan proposes for construction in the Edwards Aquifer watershed in southwest Travis and western Hays counties.)
The 21-member CAMPO Policy Board, mostly consisting of elected officials from cities and counties in the six-county CAMPO planning area, tell their constituents they value public input into their decisions. Federal law requires the public be given a “reasonable opportunity” to comment on the draft 25-year transportation plan. Yet the draft plan remains incomplete and the most key part of it—the map—is wrong.
As proposed, the CAMPO 2045 plan is loaded with tens of billions of dollars of road projects—the vast majority of them designed to serve endless, 360-degree sprawl across the six county region. The draft plan admits that if we build these roads with our local, state, and federal tax dollars, congestion will only get worse—just not as bad as if we did nothing.
It’s time to rethink our most basic approach to transportation planning. This new report by Transportation for America, The Congestion Con, spells out how the twin ideas that building roads will reduce congestion and that reducing congestion should drive our transportation policies are both wrong. (If you want to understand the truth about traffic in growing urban areas, please read this report.)
Locally, tens of billions of dollars and the future of Barton Springs and the land, water, air, wildlife and quality of life of our region is shaped by how we spend our transportation dollars, perhaps more than anything else we do.
The CAMPO 2045 draft plan speaks volumes about who we are, what we value, and what we want for the future of our region. The plan—and the public process for adopting the plan—also speaks volumes about our local, elected leadership, from Georgetown to San Marcos, and from Marble Falls to Lockhart (but especially from Travis and Williamson County).
So, please join us in telling our local, elected transportation deciders that we want an honest, public engagement process and a plan that builds an affordable, sustainable, healthy and beautiful future for the Austin metro region.
“To be stuck in traffic or stuck at home?”
April Fools! That is NOT the question.
It does kind of feel like the question, if you think about the Austin metro region the last few years and where we all sit today.
And if you enter the topsy-turvy world of Austin metro transportation planning, it sure sends like the question.
You have to wonder, “is there no exit?” Can’t Google find us a different way forward?
Right now, as we sit here stuck at home, our elected officials, sitting on our Austin metro region’s transportation planning board, known as “CAMPO,” are asking us to pony up over $40 billion in tax dollars over the next 25 years, mostly to build new highways and expand existing ones.
At the same time, the CAMPO transportation staff are telling their (our) CAMPO elected official bosses if we will only find that $40 billion for transportation projects over the next 25 years, then traffic will still get worse than it has been. It just won’t get as bad as if we do nothing.
It’s right there in the draft Austin metro long-range transportation plan, known as the CAMPO 2045 draft plan.
But wait. We know you can do that right now. 😊 😊 Keep reading.
It’s really much worse than that. But it doesn’t have to be. The draft plan is just that.: a draft. It’s out for public comment right now through April 20th. With your help, providing your own comments from the comfort of your own home, each of us, as taxpayers, commuters, and voters can weigh in and get this draft plan fixed like the flat tire that it is.
We are making it easy for you to comment on the CAMPO 2045 draft plan, which includes a suggested set of initial comments. Feel free to erase the suggested comments and write your own, modify the suggested initial comments, or adopt them as your own. Hit the “take action” and your comments will go directly to each of the CAMPO Policy Board members, listed here, and to CAMPO staff.
Before commenting, take a few minutes to look at this map of the CAMPO 2045 draft plan projects proposed for the Edwards Aquifer watershed, in southwest Travis and western Hays counties. The map includes a chart listing the $4.2 billion in proposed new and expanded highway projects listed in the draft plan. Most, if not all, of these projects should be scrapped or downsized, saving taxpayers literally billions of dollars while protecting the life source of water for our region.
There’s a whole lot more that is wrong with the draft plan. It’s hard to know where to start. The suggested comments in the form are our suggested start. We’re asking you to make some comments today, and then join us in commenting a few more times over the next 20 days. You’ll be an expert on Austin transportation at the end of the process. And, if enough of us weigh in, we can win a transportation plan that protects our water, preserves our scenic Hill Country, saves many billions of dollars, and actually reduces traffic congestion.
Thank you for caring and taking the time to comment. Stay engaged with us over the next 20 days (and beyond).
We are reaching out to all friends of the Save Our Springs Alliance to let you know about a new global day of giving and unity, Giving Tuesday Now, which has been scheduled for May 5th as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SOS staff is working every day to protect Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer. With your help, we can continue to press our elected officials in Travis and Hays counties to scale back or remove many of the $4.2 billion in road projects proposed to be built over the Edwards Aquifer over the next 25 years. We are committed to keeping treated sewage out of Barton Creek, Onion Creek and the Blanco River. We are dedicated to educate newcomers and inspire our young people to care about our local watersheds and to build a larger community committed to a more sustainable future for Central Texas. But, due to the cancellation of our summer outreach education programs and our larger sponsored events, we will soon need some help to keep our doors open and our education and advocacy work ongoing through 2020.
We understand that many people are in a difficult financial position right now, but if you find yourself able to help, we would greatly appreciate it during this uncertain time. If you like our work but have never donated to SOS Alliance, or have not given recently, please consider a tax-deductible donation. Contributions are welcome on May 5th or sooner, simply click below:
Participate in #GivingTuesdayNow
Thank you for your consideration,
SOS Board and Staff
Several sister conservation groups together filed a "friend of the court" brief in support of the SOS Alliance legal challenge to the state approval of the City of Dripping Springs permit to discharge over 800,000 gallons per day of treated sewage into Onion Creek. Each of these groups, listed below, along with a San Gabriel River landowner, are fighting similar proposals to discharge treated sewage into Central Texas streams. Read the friend-of-the-court brief - or better yet - just take a few minutes to look at the photos incorporated into the brief showing how wastewater discharges are ruining our creeks and rivers by triggering massive algae blooms (among other problems).
We extend our thanks to Stephanie Ryder Morris, a San Gabriel River home owner, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Texas Rivers Protection Association, San Marcos River Foundation, Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, Protect Our Blanco , Friends of Hondo Canyon, and attorneys Amy Johnson, Loraine Hoane, and Kelly Haragan.
A hearing on our appeal, pending in Travis County District Court, has been postponed for about two months. The hearing in the case will likely take place in July, but we don't yet have a firm date.
Monday, April 6th at 2 pm, the CAMPO policy board is having its only scheduled public hearing, online, to take public input on the Draft Long Range Transportation Plan for Austin and surrounding counties, known as the CAMPO 2045 draft plan. Please plan to "attend" this hearing, make your comment and/or listen to those of other concerned citizens. Go here for the public hearing online access information. You must sign up to speak by 10 am this Monday, April 6th, by calling 512-215-8225 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can file written comments through April 20th here . Your message will go directly to all 21 members of the CAMPO policy board. Adopt the message we suggested, or change it to say what you want it to say. Hit "take action" when you are done.
There's some additional background information here. You can read part of the draft CAMPO 2045 plan here. CAMPO has not yet provided a complete version for public review. (Go figure.) Other CAMPO 2045 draft plan background information is here.
SOS Alliance and Travis County have asked that the CAMPO Board extend the comment period for at least a couple of months. For now, however, the comment deadline is April 20th. We will be providing additional suggested comments from now until April 20th. We hope you will join us in making additional comments in the days ahead--and winning a more sustainable, affordable, safe, and responsible transportation plan for the Austin metro region.
Dear Friend of the Springs,
In 1990, Austin Chronicle Editor Louis Black challenged his readers to try and imagine an Austin without Barton Springs Pool—“a future Austin with a crumbling near-empty pool, restricted because what water there is is too polluted for swimming.” Fortunately for Austin and its generations to come, enough residents did see that future, and they rejected it.
In response to plans from developers to pave over thousands of acres of land within the Barton Creek watershed upstream of Barton Springs Pool, more than 800 Austin residents signed up to speak to the Austin City Council in opposition. The council unanimously rejected the plans, Barton Springs Pool was saved, and the Save Our Springs movement was born.
Since 1992, the Save Our Springs Alliance has been working to protect the water quality of Barton Springs, the Edwards Aquifer, and all of the beautiful creeks and rivers of the Texas Hill Country. We wrote and helped secure voter approval of the landmark Save Our Springs Initiative Ordinance, which to this day embodies the gold standard of water quality protections in Texas. And, as the only public interest legal team in Central Texas dedicated to protecting its natural resources, have successfully defended against developers’ attacks on the SOS Ordinance and our local environmental regulations, all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.
Austin has changed quite a bit since the early 90s; it’s nearly doubled in population, becoming the 11th largest city in the nation. The area around it has grown as well, creating new challenges for managing growth and limiting the impacts of development. To help address these challenges, the Save Our Springs Alliance has expanded its efforts in the Texas Hill Country to better manage our limited water resources and to encourage cities to invest in land conservation as a strategy to protect groundwater, and to adopt stricter regulations to protect the springs and rivers that are the life source of our entire region. But, our work is never finished.
Please help Save Our Springs today by making a contribution to support the science, law, and public education we need to protect our environmental resources. 50% of your donation will be matched by the Kirk Mitchell Environmental Law Fund.
The world is slowly waking up to the reality that climate change is real. And, while this is a global issue, the impacts of climate change are felt locally. In Austin, we are experiencing threats from two extremes: heavier rainfall means increased flooding risks, while less frequent rainfall means more severe periods of drought. With your continued financial assistance, we can help the City of Austin and other communities adjust their policies and regulations to respond to these new threats and require developments to be more climate-responsive.
Right now, SOS attorneys are working collaboratively with other environmental stakeholders and city leaders to bring forward “GREEN” amendments to Austin’s land development code that (i) will require new buildings to be more water-efficient through water-benchmarking and dual plumbing requirements; (ii) will take full advantage of the benefits of green infrastructure as a way of retaining, using and treating storm water; and (iii) will continue and enhance protections for the critical water quality zones of our creeks, to reduce erosion and filter out pollution.
But, more importantly, the continued success of the Save Our Springs movement that began so many years ago is entirely reliant on our ability to reach the next generation of Austinites, as well as the thousands of new citizens flocking to our region. Save Our Springs is responding to this challenge by expanding and enhancing its most important mission, our educational programming.
This year our Outreach & Education team has grown our premier educational program, Barton Springs University (BSU), into a year-round program that includes snorkeling eco-tours, hikes, and kid camps at Barton Springs and Barton Creek and inclass Barton Springs 101 presentations for schools and civic groups. The program culminates in September at the BSU event, a full day of outdoor education and experiential learning activities at Barton Springs Pool for over 1,000 high school students and their teachers as well as college students and the general public.
Our goal is to educate these new citizens, re-engage longtime citizens, and inspire our young people as the next generation of environmental activists, to care about water stewardship and environmental sustainability in Central Texas. Barton Springs University gives them the opportunity to obtain a foundation in the management and stewardship of our region’s water resources and aquatic ecosystems and to learn what we must do as a city and a region to protect and sustain our home waters. For more information go to: BartonSpringsUniversity.org.
We cannot do this work without your generous support. Please include the Save Our Springs Alliance in your end-of-year charitable giving. Together, 2020 can be our most important year ever by expanding Barton Springs University, defending the Save Our Springs Ordinance and continuing our legal efforts to defend and protect our precious creeks, springs, and rivers.
Thank you for your consideration and your past support, and thank you for being part of the Save Our Springs community. We hope you will join us at Barton Springs on New Year’s Day for the Polar Bear Splash. We will be at the front gate from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. with our commemorative t-shirts for sale and free hot coffee and donuts. Bring the whole family, and invite your friends and colleagues to join in the sense of community, good will, and pure joy of starting the New Year at Barton Springs.
Warm wishes for the holiday season,
Save Our Springs Alliance Board and Staff
With the support of our members and our community partners, 2019 has been a busy and productive year for Save Our Springs. Here are some of our accomplishments:
In 2019, our team of attorneys took several important legal and policy-based actions to address some of our region’s most urgent environmental challenges:
On Wednesday, December 11th, the Austin City Council approved on first reading a proposed comprehensive revision to the land development code (formerly known as CodeNEXT). The Save Our Springs Alliance has been following the drafting of the new code, and we’ve been trying to make it as “green” as possible by suggesting environmentally friendly amendments and supporting positive changes. Although the ultimate vote on the first reading action was split on the council (7-4), we were able to get agreement on many of our requested amendments.
Throughout the development of the code, we have received assistance from many council offices; however, we want to give a special thanks to our environmental champions, Council Members Kathie Tovo, Ann Kitchen, Leslie Pool, and Alison Alter (and their respective policy aides), who stuck with us on every major environmental-focused amendment that we requested.
We will continue to provide you updates, as the code develops. In the meantime, below is a quick snapshot of some changes included in the code and our progress with incorporating environmentally friendly amendments. To organize our thoughts, we’ve grouped them into the following categories: Green Light (positive changes), Yellow Light (changes to watch), and Red Light (serious concerns).
GREEN LIGHT: Positive Changes for the Environment in the New Code:
YELLOW Light: Changes to Watch in the New Code:
Impervious Cover. The overall analysis of how the revised land development code impacts the amount of impervious cover that will be built in the city is complicated, to say the least. For some uses, allowable impervious cover entitlements are proposed to be reduced (eg, for single-family homes, impervious cover per site would be reduced from 45% to 40%). For other uses, allowable impervious cover entitlements are proposed to be increased (eg, for 3-10 unit developments, adopted amendments to the could could increase impervious cover up to 60% per site). The idea is that, in shifting around the theoretical maximums from one use to another, the overall entitled impervious cover would balance out, as compared to the existing code.
However, we are not comforted by such talking points, as many parts of the City are already over-paved. While we will keep an open mind as additional analyses are conducted, we are generally concerned with the direction of putting more impervious in watersheds already experiencing localized flooding and erosion. We believe a better approach would be to analyze the total amount of impervious cover that is likely to be built under the new code and compare that to what is on the ground today. This would allow the City to better adjust the new code to solve for existing problems (such as localized flooding, urban heating) and more strategically place new impervious cover entitlements in areas that can handle it. Additionally, we believe there should be more conversation around the related consequences of increasing impervious cover for economic purposes, such as the tree removals and loss of green space that result from higher levels of impervious cover per site.
Grandfathered Properties. To some extent, the ability for developers to avoid compliance with current code regulations is the biggest impediment that prevents the City from achieving its goals. This is especially true for environmental regulations within the Barton Springs Zone, where developers frequently claim “vested rights” (aka, “grandfathering”) to skirt the environmental requirements of the Save Our Springs Initiative Ordinance. Often times, the only way we can eliminate (or modify) these vested rights is by negotiating for improved water quality regulations when a developer needs additional zoning entitlements from the City. As part of our mapping concerns, the SOS legal team raised concerns with new zoning entitlements being granted on properties that may have claims to vested rights, without requiring compliance with existing environmental regulations. For example, our attorneys found one property in the Barton Springs Zone where a developer might be able to combine the new zoning entitlements with vested rights to build a 90-ft. tower, using up to 65% impervious cover, and still not be required to install SOS-required water quality ponds. We are hopeful that the City will recommend changes to the zoning map or code that could address this concern and ensure that we are working to actively enforce compliance with our environmental regulations.
Water Forward & Green Infrastructure. The proposed code includes some amendments that would require larger-scale developments to be more efficient with their use of water, such as green stormwater infrastructure and water benchmarking; however, these changes feel small when compared to the imminent threats that our community is facing from climate change. With the assistance of Council Member Kitchen, we were able to keep conversations afloat on water retention requirements that would redirect stormwater towards beneficial uses onsite. But, there is significantly more work to do. The Water Forward Task Force laid out a plan to improve the water efficiency and climate resiliency of developments in our city. These recommendations are necessary components of ensuring that we will have enough water to serve our residents, as we continue to grow. We will continue to encourage the City Council to take this issue seriously and implement the full recommendations of the Water Forward Task Force as expeditiously as possible.
RED Light: Reasons for Serious Concern
Heritage Trees. The proposed code is headed in the wrong direction on tree protections. On a 7-4 vote, the Austin City Council voted to include a proposed administrative variance that would permit the removal of Heritage Trees along major streets and corridors. SOS (and the mythical Lorax) thanks Council Members Pool, Alter, Kitchen and Tovo for trying to save Austin’s tree canopy with several amendments. We are also disappointed that the City Council moved forward with reducing the health standard from “Imminent Hazard” to “Extreme Risk”, which allow hundreds of more trees to be killed all across the city before their time. The City has spent quite a bit of time and money at the State Capital trying to save our tree regulations from developers’ lobbying efforts, and it’s disappointing to see our own elected officials chop up our own tree protections. Council Member Ellis helped mitigate these concerns by introducing a density bonus program for tree preservation, which will hopefully require developers to adjust their plans to save the trees; however, we would note that this program would not be required if council maintained our City’s tree protections.
A Rushed Process. Wait, what do you mean “rushed”? This process has gone on for YEARS... It is true that the land development code revision process has been in the works for several years; however, it is also true that the current draft of the code was only released on October 4th. Given the extent of the changes, the many different policy areas the code covers, and the impact that it will have on our community, we would encourage the City Council to slow down a bit and let the City staff do more due diligence. We continue to find errors in the language that could have serious consequences (such as a drafting error we caught which would have allowed massive car dealerships to be built in the Barton Springs Zone). While there is a desire to adopt the code and move on, we still need the City Council to properly deliberate and to allow the drafted code language to be fully vetted.
Parkland Dedication. Although they were not yet adopted, amendments to the parkland dedication ordinance have been proposed that would diminish the City’s ability to require on-site dedication of parkland. We simply do not have enough parkland to meet the growing needs of our city, and we strongly oppose any amendment that would weaken the City’s parkland dedication requirements. SOS will be signing onto a letter from the Austin Parks Foundation to support them in their efforts to defend the parkland dedication ordinance.