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.
AND TO OUR SILENT AUCTION DONORS
Alice Mabry, Amy's Ice Creams, Arbor Vitae Tree Care, Armadillo Christmas Bazaar
Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co., Austin Bouldering Project, Ave Bonar
Barbara White, Barley + Pfeiffer Architects, Barry George, Barton Springs Nursery
Big Weekend Calendars, Bob Swaffar, Book People, Brenda Ladd Photography
Bright Leaf Preserve, Bruce Willenzik & Annie Harding, Carol Dillard
Capital Cruises, Casa Garcia's Mexican Restaurant, Charlie Jackson, Cheryl Rae
Chia Art & Design, Christine Shaw, Collected Letters, Connie Colten Jewelry
Deda Divine, Dr. Singha's Natural Therapeutics, Eco-Wise, Ed Crowell
El Interior, Elizabeth McGreevy, Forbidden Fruit, Fred & Janis Tate,
Fred Tate Jewelry Designs, Good Flow Honey Co, Grackle Handmade Jewlery,
Hal Strickland, Helen Jean Cordes, Hill Country Arborist, It's Magic, Jim Camp,
Jim Hightower & Associates, John Bederman, Kam Magor, Karen Nunley, Lila Wilson Hair,
Live Oak Brewery, Magnolia Cafe, Malvern Books, Marigold - Gateway to India,
Martha Grennon, MaryAnn Reynolds, MaryBeth Maher, Mary Sled,
Michael Polacheck, Mona Mehdy, Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill, Mother's Café & Garden
Myo Massage, Natural Bridge Caverns, Net Ingenuity, Once Over Coffee Bar
P. Terry's Burger Stand, Paramount State Theatre, Park Lane Guest House
Plain View Press, Priscilla Ramirez, Rock n Roll Rentals, Russell Sports, Inc
Samana Benedetti, Sandy Dunn, LMT, SASS Fresh Dressings
Scott Johnson, Shudde Fath, Soul Swimming, Sun Dragon Martial Arts
Terra Toys, Tesoro's Trading Co., Texas Aloha Massage, Texas Coffee Traders
Texas Rowing Center, The Spring Center for Natural Medicine
The Thinkery, Tim Cross, Torbin Bortner, TribeNine.com, Uchi
Vicki Wolf, Virginia Palmer, Wheatsville Coop, Whole Earth Provision Co
Women & Their Work, Wunder- Pilz Kombucha, Zippy Is Silly
And to our hard working and amazing volunteers!
Brenda Bellocchio, Jill Carpenter, Deda Divine, Janet Hampel,
Lauren Ice & Josh, Butch Lawson, MaryBeth Maher,
Ingrid Weigand, and others....
Help us continue our education and advocacy work in 2020! Make your year-end tax-deductible donation to SOS. Then, come on down to Barton Springs on New Year's Day for the annual Polar Bear Splash. We'll be there from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm with hot coffee, donuts, and selling the 2020 commemorative t-shirts. See you there to splash into the new year polar bear style!