Hays County Members Call to Action
HAYS COUNTY RESIDENTS-- CALL TO ACTION-- FIGHT THE FM 150 EXTENSION THAT THREATENS ONION CREEK! Please take two minutes to contact your county commissioner using this simple online form letter linked HERE.
RSVP at info@ SOSAlliance.org
Make your donation for tickets here:
Check Yes under the Legends of South Austin question on the donate page.
Please go to this link right now and register for the February 15th, 6:00 p.m. Virtual Meeting #4 on the Zilker Park Vision Plan. Even if you have not kept up, this is the perfect time to catch up and hear firsthand the City’s park consultants proposed scenarios for the future of our flagship park. Please also invite friends and family. This is a critical meeting in the park plan process. If you haven’t already, check out the Rewilding Zilker Park proposal, which is now endorsed by SOS, the Austin Group of the Sierra Club, and six South Austin neighborhood associations.
If you like it, please urge the park planners to make Rewilding Zilker Park, with at least seventy acres of underutilized, treeless Zilker fields reforested as the green, people-and-climate-friendly foundation of Zilker Park’s future. You can do that at the Feb. 15 meeting and in an updated survey that will run in the weeks following the meeting.
Water News: Don't Drink It!!
Water, water everywhere, . . .: With Saturday night’s boil water notice, and now 3 days without safe water, Austin Water Utility customers are shown, yet again, how mismanaged our City water and wastewater utility really is. AWU Director Greg Meszaros was scarcely qualified when he was first hired in 2007. He then proceeded to sell a bare minimum majority of the Austin City Council on building the Billion Dollar Mistake on the Lake, aka Water Treatment Plant No. 4, a plant we didn’t need and that won’t do what it was claimed to do; it cannot make water, nor make it rain, nor fill in when our other water treatment plants have problems.
How did Meszaros sell the Council and gullible local media on such a huge project? With an argument that we needed a third treatment plant to provide “redundancy” and “resilience,” that having only two water plants was too risky in light of the rise of terrorism and the growth of the city.
SOS did our research on these claims and rated them “Pants on Fire!”
Plenty of other large cities operate safely on two plants, or even one. An SOS public information request to AWU found that, in fact, the Utility’s own internal risk analysis identified power outages and the need for reliable back-up power as the top threat. Having only two plants was not even mentioned among the threats identified.
And, lo and behold, in the years following the completion of WTP No. 4, we have seen multiple water supply outages for large parts of the City: from a “turbidity” problem when a flood hit the Llano River Basin – that somehow didn’t disrupt water delivery at other cities drawing from the Highland Lakes; when chemical fire retardants sprayed by the AFD somehow got into the water system in South Austin; and then, last year, during Winter Storm Uri, when the power went out AWU couldn’t figure out how to turn on the backup water supply for the Ullrich treatment plant. In none of these instances did WTP4 help; and AWU failed to do the one thing its own analysis told it to do: keep the power on!!
Now we have a treatment upset at Ullrich and the Utility waits 12 hours to issue a boiled water notice. Meszaros admits it was “operator error” but will not give details. Like a true failed leader, he will likely blame his underlings again for the most recent chain-of-errors rather than take responsibility and resign (or retire).
Along the way Meszaros fought tooth and toenail against the City Council-appointed Austin Water Forward Task Force members’ recommendations for water conservation, water reuse, and more distributed, local, and small-scale “net zero” water solutions for Austin. He even declared he did not “have to listen” to the Task Force, storming out of a key meeting when he didn’t like the commonsense solutions offered by the Task Force to meet our future water needs.
And that’s just a short list of the problems at the Austin Water Utility. If City Manager Cronk won’t fire Meszaros, or demand his resignation, then the City Council needs to fire Cronk and hire a City Manager who will make it clear that we need, first and foremost, basic integrity and competence from all our city departments. And that competence and integrity must start at the top.
Barton Springs University
In September, we had to cancel for the second year, BSU Day at Barton Springs due to Covid-19. The BSU team has continued growing our Educational Programming throughout 2021. The Austin Parks and Recreation Department leadership has allowed us to expand our educational programs at Barton Springs, on the creek, and in other Austin parks. This will include desperately needed kid camps during the summer months. We have also worked on producing new video and classroom materials, including a class about “the weirdest fish in Austin”, the American River eel. Barton Springs University is now a year-round series of educational events, snorkeling eco-tours, and summer camps, highlighted by a full day of outdoor learning at Barton Springs Pool in September. Visit BartonSpringsUniversity.org for more information.
Protecting Our Public Parks from Overdevelopment and Privatization
SOS has taken a leading role in advocating for keeping our City of Austin parks open to the public for connection with nature and outdoor recreation, and for managing and restoring our park lands and habitats. Zilker Park and Lady Bird Lake in particular have been targeted for excessive development and commercialization. SOS commissioned the Rewilding Zilker Park plan, prepared by restoration ecologist and park planner Elizabeth McGreevy. You can view the plan here. We are now working with Zilker, Barton Hills, Bouldin Creek and other neighborhood associations to advocate for a greener, healthier, more accessible, and more climate-protective future for Zilker Park in the context of the City’s ongoing Zilker Park Vision Plan. Working with SOS members, lifeguards, and swimmers, we kept the City from selling alcohol at the new Barton Springs concession stand/cafe. We also kept the proposed new Dougherty Arts Center from being located in the middle of Butler Shores and on top of the hike and bike trail (which would have converted this natural part of the trail into an urban setting).
Keeping Wastewater out of Central Texas Streams
SOS, along with a coalition of landowners and local environmental organizations, successfully fought off a permit to discharge partially treated sewage into Long Branch, a tributary of Barton Creek. After hearing significant community concern, developer Stephen Cleveland voluntarily withdrew his permit application.
San Marcos River
SOS attorneys represented the San Marcos River Foundation and Texas Rivers Protection Association in two cases where developers sought to discharge wastewater into the San Marcos River. SOS successfully negotiated settlements in these two cases; committing the permittees in each case to reuse 75% of their wastewater for irrigation and other purposes; and treat any water that is discharged to the highest standards.
SOS attorneys are currently representing landowners in challenging a permit to discharge nearly half a million gallons a day into a tributary of Cibolo Creek in Kendall County.
SOS is still defending Onion Creek from the City of Dripping Springs’ application to discharge wastewater into this pristine recharge source for the Edwards Aquifer. After our October 2020 victory in Travis County District Court, TCEQ and Dripping Springs filed an appeal, which is still pending. Oral argument will be heard in 2022.
SOS continues to work with local residents and city officials to help shape the future of wastewater in the City of Blanco. Blanco had originally sought a permit to discharge nearly 2 million gallons of wastewater a day into the Blanco River. But that permit application has been put on hold while Blanco evaluates its options, including land irrigation and beneficial reuse, to dispose of wastewater.
All Texas Rivers & Streams
SOS joined 20 other Texas organizations in asking the United States Environmental Protection Agency to take away the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) authority to administer the Clean Water Act. As the district court found in the Dripping Springs decision, TCEQ has failed to correctly apply the Clean Water Act and acknowledge the science documenting the harm that wastewater discharges inflict on pristine Hill Country creeks. The petition to EPA also documents statewide impacts from TCEQ’s failure to prevent water pollution.
In April, SOS attorney Kelly Davis presented a talk entitled, “Beyond Yuck: Wastewater Discharges in the Hill Country and Beyond,” on a national platform as part of the Baylor University Aquatic Science Series. The talk was viewed by classrooms across the country and is accessible at https://nepris.com/app/videos/beyond-yuck-human-waste-clean-water-central-texas-beyond-83563
Protecting Vulnerable Environmental Features from Highway Impacts
SOS attorneys represented Save Barton Creek Association and other environmental and neighborhood groups in a suit brought under the National Environmental Policy Act to challenge the Oak Hill Parkway, a 12 to 16-lane mega-highway to be built at US 290 and SH 71. SOS argued on behalf of SBCA that traffic could be alleviated without building such a Although SOS secured a short reprieve for the trees, the district court ultimately sided with the Texas Department of Transportation.
Working with community activists, SOS was successful in keeping a concrete batch plant (to generate the massive amounts of concrete needed for the Oak Hill “Parkway”) off of the former Austin Community College Pinnacle campus in Southwest Austin.
SOS attorneys are still engaged in a lawsuit brought under the Endangered Species Act that challenges TxDOT’s determination that the Oak Hill Parkway project will not harm the federally endangered Barton Springs salamander and Austin blind salamander.
SOS attorneys rallied community members and submitted comments on the Hays County Transportation Plan and the Dripping Springs Transportation Plan. Both plans included proposed new roads that would slice through untouched Hill Country landscape, inviting more traffic and development while causing runoff pollution. SOS has joined with Dripping Springs residents to oppose several of the roads in the county and city plans, including most notably the proposed expansion and extension of FM 150.
Through coalition-building and commenting, SOS is working to defeat or scale back the resurrected proposal to build a double-decker toll road over Zilker Park, Lady Bird Lake, and Austin High School known. We defeated the MoPac South toll road project in 2015, and with your help we can do it again.
Ensuring Responsible Development
In 2020, SOS, along with Kyle residents, sued the City of Kyle for approving a development agreement for a huge development on the banks of the Blanco River. The City resisted the suit and initially won in having the suit dismissed, but on a Motion to Reconsider, the district court reversed its decision. The City promptly appealed, and oral argument on jurisdictional issues will be held in 2022. Chief among SOS’s arguments is that the City cannot bargain or give away zoning and development authority to private developers.
Shaping Water-Related Legislation
During the 2021 legislative session, SOS worked hard to support HB 4146, the “Pristine Streams Bill,” which would have prohibited domestic wastewater discharges into the clearest and cleanest rivers and creeks throughout Texas. The bill passed the House and although it never made it to the Senate floor for a vote, this is the furthest such a bill has ever made it in the Legislature. SOS continues to work with the No Dumping Sewage coalition to oppose new wastewater permits and work towards a holistic, proactive solution.
Protecting Endangered Species
SOS joined with local scientists to petition the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list the Pedernales River springs salamander as endangered. This action was prompted when developers last summer announced a large project on the Pedernales River, just across from the spectacular Hamilton Pool Preserve.
SOS is working with a coalition of environmentalists and landowners to scale back a proposed Violet Crown Amphitheater, a 20,000-seat venue and entertainment district on the banks of Barton Creek. The site is surrounded by preserve land that is home to the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.
Safeguarding San Antonians’ Petition Rights
When the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) attempted to prohibit any citizen-petitions related to SAWS’ management, SOS attorneys blocked the maneuver in court, ensuring that citizens could continue to initiate ordinances to implement much-needed reform of SAWS.
Please help us continue our work in 2022 by making a year end donation to SOS.
We had enormous fun at Barton Springs on New Year's Day. (click on Read Full Article link below to access the photo links). The Polar Bear swimmers were out in force and with such warm weather folks were happy to hang around and enjoy the day. We do have some t-shirts left over. If you would like one or more, please make a donation to SOS here for $23 each shirt and we will mail them to you asap. You can put the sizes etc. in the comments section on the donate page. We will also open our office for pick ups. Please email email@example.com to schedule a time. You can view the photos on our facebook page here or on the photographer's website here.
Initial comments of the Save Our Springs Alliance on CTRMA’s “Virtual Meeting” for the restart of its proposed Mopac South project
Extend the comment period at least 30 days. The comment period fell entirely over the holidays. CTRMA’s MopacSouth.com website for the project says in bold at the very top “Latest News 08/08/2017”, which of course tells the reader that nothing is going on worthy of attention. Much of the remaining information on the site is also confusing. Extending the comment period and correcting the misinformation will help ensure robust and full public input.
Prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). As proposed, the project would add 16 to 32 lane-miles of impervious cover within the Recharge Zone for the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. The project will have substantial adverse impacts on Barton Springs, the Edwards Aquifer, Zilker Park, Lady Bird Lake, the Hike and Bike Trail, Austin High School, the Barton Creek greenbelt, and the endangered Barton Springs and Austin blind salamanders. Given the size of the project and ecological sensitivity of the area, the project will have unavoidable and significant environmental impacts. Preparing an Environmental Assessment in pursuit of a “finding of no significant impact” demonstrates bad faith for the entire environmental review process.
Do not build a double-decker bridge over MoPac, Zilker Park, Lady Bird Lake, and Austin High School. Avoid taking any park land or encroaching on Austin High School property.
Fully evaluate a “no build” or “very limited build” alternative that improves traffic flow using the existing pavement, including dedicating an existing inside lane to rush hour “high occupancy vehicles” (HOVs) and public transit, utilizing ramp metering, and updating traffic modelling that recognizes a post-covid world where tele-commuting, flexible work schedules and other technological and societal changes have largely eliminated the necessity of spending more than half of a billion dollars trying to accommodate previously predicted “single occupancy vehicle peak hour demand” increases.
Update the traffic modeling data and give the public another opportunity to give input before selecting a “preferred alternative.” The Open House materials indicate that the traffic data uses the 2009 model that supported the long-range 2035 CAMPO regional plan. The materials further state that it will be updated to 2045 data at a later point (presumably after the initial public comment period has ended). CTRMA should update MoPac information with current data and a functional traffic model—and allow public comment on that analysis. The 2035 model, now more than 10 years old, was problematic then and virtually useless now.
Updated traffic modeling should include COVID traffic counts and the best current information on projecting traffic flows, recognizing that improved transportation technology will greatly increase efficient use of the existing pavement. The giant leap forward in telecommuting means a different world in the future. Neither the 2035 Model nor the 2045 model has any conception of this new world. Both also ignore the “induced demand” problem that has shown, time after time, that expanding roadways in urbanizing areas fails to reduce congestion to any significant degree.
Analyze real alternatives to added toll lanes. The six “alternatives” offered are all variations on one concept—adding toll lanes to MoPac South. Analyze a range of alternatives that make better use of existing pavement and take into account changing traffic patterns. Specifically, analyze an alternative that involves converting inside existing lanes to rush hour HOV lanes with little or no additional pavement as an option in the analysis—and pursue in the interim as a test solution for very little money.
Do not ignore the challenge of getting Mopac traffic from the off and on ramps at Cesar Chavez all the way into and out of downtown.
Analyze the climate change impacts of building more capacity for single-occupancy vehicles, as well as climate change impacts of increased concrete.
Buy mitigation land to offset increases in impervious cover from the project and from induced impervious cover from secondary development.
TAKE ACTION NOW!!
The comment deadline for the initial comment period is this Friday, January 7th. (Of course, CTRMA was so respectful of public comment that it played the standard trick of setting the public comment period to run over the holidays.) Please take a look at the above comments and then please write your own official comments here or email MoPacSouth@ctrma.org, using ours for guidance. Most importantly, please ask that the comment period be extended for at least 30 days following the publication of current relevant traffic data and analysis.
This resurrected really-bad-idea is being pushed forward with traffic data and analysis that is more than 10 years old. If built, it would convert Mopac from a local commuter highway into a western alternative for I-35 (think I-35 West). Its construction and operation pose a major threat to Barton Springs, Zilker Park, Lady Bird Lake Park, the Butler Hike & Bike Trail, Austin High School, and the Barton Creek greenbelt. We fought it off once and with your help we can do it again.
Job Posting - Staff Attorney
Organization: Save Our Springs Alliance
Location: Austin, Texas
Preferred Start Date : As soon as possible (negotiable)
Practice Areas: Water, endangered species, land protection, and historic and cultural preservation under federal, state, and local laws. Policy and legislative advocacy on land, water, wildlife, and climate issues.
Description: Save Our Springs Alliance seeks a motivated and dedicated public interest environmental protection advocate to join its teams as a Staff Attorney. Save Our Springs is a small nonprofit using education, advocacy, and litigation to protect the Edwards Aquifer Ecosystem, which includes all of the largest springs in Texas, the major water supply for the Austin-to-San Antonio corridor, and dozens of threatened and endangered species that live here and nowhere else in the world. Since 1992, Save Our Springs has combined science, economics, and citizen action with legal expertise to protect our Texas Hill Country home. The attorney would work under Executive Director and attorney Bill Bunch.
Responsibilities include: • Managing a project load with a variety of litigation and non-litigation advocacy projects. Typically, an attorney’s docket will include projects for which he or she has primarily responsibility as well as cases on which he or she works in a supporting role with other attorneys. • Participating in all aspects of litigation in state and federal court, including factual investigation, legal research, discovery, briefing, witness preparation, and oral advocacy. • Submitting comments orally and in writing to federal, state, and local governmental agencies. • Attending and speaking at various meetings and hearings of governmental entities, including the Texas Legislature. • Participating in coalition building on interdisciplinary policy issues; collaborating with other organizations on strategies and work product. • Drafting FOIA and Texas Public Information Act requests. • Aiding in the selection and supervision of legal interns. • Supporting various outreach events throughout the year.
Qualifications: • J.D. from an ABA-accredited law school. • Membership in the Texas bar or willingness to waive in or sit for the Texas Bar Exam. • Demonstrated interest in and commitment to environmental protection and/or public-interest law. • Excellent research and writing skills. • Ability to work independently and in a small, collegial environment. • A strong work ethic, sense of initiative, and creativity. Salary is commensurate with experience, on the non-profit scale. To Apply: Send a résumé, cover letter, law school transcript (for lawyers practicing five years or less), writing sample (preferably a legal brief or memorandum), and a list of references to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put “Staff Attorney Applicant” in the subject line. We intend to fill this position as soon as possible. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until the position is filled.
Contact Information: Kelly Davis email@example.com 512-477-2320, ext. 6 4701 West Gate Blvd., D-401 Austin, TX 78745
Jump in to 2022 at the Polar Bear Splash!
Jump in on January 1, 2022! The Polar Bear Splash is a go!! We are excited to report that we will once again embrace this New Years Day tradition in '22 after having to miss the fun in '21 due to COVID. Save Our Springs will be set up at the front gate area from 8am - 4pm selling our commemorative t-shirts and providing hot coffee and donuts as long as they last! If you would like to volunteer at the SOS tent please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope to see you there!
Help Shape the Future of Zilker Park Today – The City of Austin’s Zilker Park Vision Plan Survey #4 remains open. If you have not already, please take some time (up to 20 or 30 minutes) to take this survey. The survey is jumbled and often vague, with a bias towards building more stuff in the park, but it’s important for everyone who cares about the park to participate.
Here are a few suggestions to consider when answering the questions. Please add your own individual comments and be sure to hit “save” on the comment boxes.
Read our End of Year Letter Here
Dear Friend of the Hill Country,
While we have been blessed with recent rains, the threats to our Hill Country home waters seem never-ending. Our hands here at Save Our Springs Alliance are full.
Please, if you are able, make a generous tax-deductible donation to SOS today. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need your support for our work protecting our water, our parks, and the native wildlife that depends on them.
Our small team of advocates, educators, and scientists are working right now on these projects to protect our home here in the heart of Texas.
*Earlier this year we won a landmark court ruling prohibiting treated sewage from being discharged to Onion Creek and the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer. But lawyers for the State and Dripping Springs have appealed. If we win again Barton Creek, Onion Creek, and all of our Hill Country streams will be protected from wastewater discharges. The appellate briefs are filed, and the case will be argued in January.
*Meanwhile, SOS joined with 21 other conservation groups last month to petition the EPA to force the TCEQ (our state EPA-equivalent) to stop it’s systematic failure to protect our state’s high quality and pristine waters, from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico. TCEQ’s consistent failure to protect our crystal-clear Hill Country streams and springs is Exhibit A in this petition to EPA.
*This summer Austin launched the Zilker Park Vision Plan process – which will determine if Zilker becomes more park, and less pavement, or is further paved and privatized. Special interests are pushing hard to convert Zilker and our other parks into profit centers.
To counter these pressures, SOS, with support from the Zilker, Barton Hills, and Bouldin Creek neighborhood associations, commissioned a Rewilding Zilker Park plan. This plan would restore riparian woodlands and shaded areas to large areas of Zilker Park that are mostly unusable during hot summer months. And we are working with allies across the City to protect our public trust park lands from further development. Check out the Rewilding Zilker Park plan on our website – and please donate to help us protect Zilker Park from further commercial development.
* We are growing our Barton Springs University Educational Program with a new "Park-nership" with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. Barton Springs University is now a year-round series of educational events, snorkeling eco-tours, and summer camps, highlighted by a full day of outdoor learning at Barton Springs Pool in September. Your donation will help us educate and activate the next generation of activists and stewards of our local environment. You can learn more and view our 2020 Virtual BSU Day at www.BartonSpringsUniversity.org.
*Just two weeks ago our local toll road authority resurrected its 2013 proposal to add 4 toll lanes to south Mopac, from Cesar Chavez to Slaughter Lane, with a double-decker toll bridge over Zilker Park, Lady Bird Lake and Austin High School. With your help SOS defeated the original (ghastly) plan, and with your help we will do it again.
*In September Austin scientists detected toxic cyanobacteria in a pool at Sculpture Falls. With warming temperatures, SOS’s legal and policy advocacy will help keep nutrient pollution that feeds toxic algae growth out of our lakes, streams, and springs.
*SOS staff attorneys, working with the San Marcos River Foundation, Texas River Protection Association, Protect Our Blanco, and others have just this year stopped or slowed proposals to discharge treated sewage into the Blanco and San Marcos rivers, Barton Creek, Onion Creek, and other Hill Country streams.
*When developers this summer announced a large project on the banks of the Pedernales River, just across from the spectacular Hamilton Pool Preserve, SOS joined with local scientists to petition the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list the Pedernales River springs salamander as endangered. The salamander is only found in small springs along the river, most of which are near or within the proposed river front development. Pollution and pumping of surface and groundwater to serve the proposed project threaten both the salamander and a freshwater mussel found in the river.
And other threats, like the proposed 20,000 seat Violet Crown amphitheater project above Barton Creek, seem to pop up every week. We know what to do, but we literally cannot do this work without your continued and generous support.
Please donate today either with a one-time or a recurring gift. Use the enclosed envelope or donate online at SOSAlliance.org. Please also consider donating appreciated stock and/or including SOS Alliance in your planned giving.
Thank you for your consideration and if you have any questions, please feel free to email Bill@SOSAlliance.org or Pat@sosalliance.org.
With our warm wishes for a happy holiday season,
Bill Bunch Pat Brodnax
for SOS Alliance Board and Staff
P.S. Please view and bid on locally sourced arts, crafts, and services offered in our new Virtual Silent Auction, which opens on November 15th and closes on December 6th. Go to: www.32auctions.com/saveoursprings
P.S.S. With the pandemic we will again miss our annual holiday party, but please join us at Barton Springs for the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Splash. The pool was closed last year, New Year’s Day, but we will make up for the lost fun this year with a covid-safe plunge and our traditional coffee, donuts, event t-shirts, and general merriment.
Auction Ends Today!
Bid now on your favorite items or join in for the first time! There are still some awesome items remaining. The auction ends at exactly 5 p.m. today. Please see the detailed instructions below on how to receive the items you won. Thanks everyone for making this first online auction a successful and fun experience!
Pick Up Instructions for Your Silent Auction Item
Here are the instructions on how to pick up the items or certificates that you win through the SOS silent auction:
If the item you win is a gift certificate or gift card, we can happily mail the certificate to you! Simply email email@example.com with your name, the certificate you have won, and your mailing address. We will get it mailed out to you ASAP.
-If you win a physical item or would just prefer to pick up your gift card or certificate in person, please follow the instructions below.
Many thanks to all of our awesome local donors!
512 Organics ~ Larry Akers ~ All Water Guides ~ Antone's Nightclub ~ Mary Jane Appel Arbor Vitae Tree Care ~ Austin Bouldering Project ~ Austin Events Calendar ~ Barbara White Wellness ~ Barley Pfeiffer Architects ~ Helen Besse, BFREE Yoga Austin ~ Ave Bonar BookPeople ~ Bouldin Creek Cafe ~ Capital Cruises ~ Dorsey Cartwright ~ Ed Crowell ~ Casa Garcia's Mexican Restaurant ~ Carol Dillard ~ Sandy Dunn, LMT~ Filter Flow RO Good Flow Honey ~ Barry George ~ Independence Barber Co. ~ Scott Johnson ~ Peggy Lamb ~ Sydney Lambert, Charles Lohrmann ~ Magnolia Cafe ~ Cindy Philips ~ MaryAnn Reynolds, MS, LMT ~ Myo Massage ~ Natural Bridge Caverns ~ New Origin Shop ~ Onion Creek Fly Co. ~ Patagonia ~ Alex Reichek ~ John Russell ~ Russell Sports ~ Peach Reynolds/Kaleidovisions ~ Hal Strickland ~ Sun Dragon Martial Arts ~ Terra Toys ~ Tesoros ~ Texas Aloha Massage ~ Texas Climbing Adventures ~ Texas Rowing Center ~ The Eureka Room The Great Outdoors ~ The Natural Gardener ~ The Soup Peddler ~ Tillery Street Plant Co. ~ Ben Thompson ~ and more being added daily!
SOS and 20 others ask EPA to strip Texas’ environmental agency of its water pollution management authority
SOS Alliance and 20 other conservation groups filed a formal, 40-page petition asking the U.S. EPA to revoke the authority of Texas’ environmental agency, the TCEQ, to approve permits authorizing the discharge of pollutants into public waters. The request to either revoke or force TCEQ to fix its water pollution control powers rests largely on TCEQ’s chronic and systemic failure to prevent degradation of Texas waters, as required by the Clean Water Act.
TCEQ’s approval of a permit allowing Dripping Springs to discharge up to 822,500 gallons per day of treated sewage into Onion Creek, which SOS had thrown out by a Travis County District Judge, is one of several examples cited in the petition where TCEQ ignored mandatory Clean Water Act standards in reviewing pollution discharge requests. Read our press release and the complete petition and/or watch yesterday’s press conference here. Read the San Antonio Express-News coverage, quoting SOS attorney Kelly Davis, here.
Local Scientists, Conservation Advocates Seek Endangered Status for Pedernales River Springs Salamander
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 27, 2021 CONTACT: Bill Bunch, SOS Alliance (512)784-3749
Read the Petition here
Last Monday a group of Austin area environmental scientists and the conservation group Save Our Springs Alliance filed a formal petition with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list the Pedernales River springs salamander as “endangered” or “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Filing the formal petition triggers an initial 90 day review period under the Act. If the Service finds the petition presents “substantial information” that the species deserves protection under the ESA, a formal listing process would take place over the next two years.
The small, fully aquatic salamander was only discovered in springs near Travis County’s Hamilton Pool Preserve in 1989. It has yet to be formally described, but genetic and other analysis by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and at U.T. Arlington have confirmed its status as a distinct species.
The salamander has a limited range focused on springs and water-filled, underground spaces in the area where Travis, Hays, and Blanco counties converge near the Hamilton Pool Road crossing of the Pedernales River. The petition documents that the species requires a reliable supply of clear, clean Hill Country limestone waters. It further documents threats to both the quality and quantity of the salamander’s spring habitats.
A recent development proposal, dubbed “Mirasol Springs” by its sponsors, triggered the petition filing. Located across Hamilton Pool Road from Hamilton Pool Preserve, the 1400 acre Mirasol Springs project would place buildings, roads, and an artificial lake directly above and surrounding key salamander springs. Water wells and a diversion from the Pedernales River to serve a proposed commercial-scale poultry coop, hotel, farm, housing, and a proposed U.T. biological field station would draw on already very limited surface and groundwater supplies in the area.
Other planned developments in the area, developments following Mirasol Springs to the area, and increased pumping for weekend homes, rural developments and agricultural operations also threaten the survival of the salamander species.
“Given the Mirasol Springs proposal and the exploding growth of the Austin area, the Pedernales River springs salamander is at grave risk of near-term extinction,” said Crystal Datri, an endangered species biologist and lead author of the petition. “The salamander’s home waters along the Pedernales River corridor above Lake Travis need to be protected, not polluted or pumped dry,” Datri added.
“Thankfully the Travis County parks (Hamilton Pool Preserve and Milton Reimers Ranch) and several conservation easements on private ranches in the area provide substantial protection to fish and wildlife habitats along the river,” said Bill Bunch, Executive Director of Save Our Springs Alliance. “But all of that good work will not protect the salamander’s spring habitats from pumping, pollution and pavement like what is now proposed for the area.”
This area along the Pedernales River is particularly rich in biological and habitat diversity. This is most obvious from the spectacular springs and grottoes at Hamilton Pool Preserve, Westcave Preserve, Deadman’s Hole, and Roy Creek (in photo). Last month the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed listing as “endangered” the Texas fatmucket mussel. The Service’s proposal would also designate the entirety of the Mirasol Springs project’s river frontage as “critical habitat” for the mussel. A water pump placed in the Pedernales River by the Mirasol Springs developer is located within the proposed mussel critical habitat. Other unique species, including the endangered Golden-cheeked warbler, live here as well.
“Now is the time to protect the springs and the unique flora and fauna of the Pedernales River corridor, before it’s too late; with this petition the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has a legal mandate to help us do that,” added Datri.
Check out this hot-off-the-press proposal, Rewilding Zilker Park, by restoration ecologist, park planner and owner of LandSteward.net, Elizabeth McGreevy. The proposal is sponsored by Save Our Springs Alliance, with support from the Zilker, Bouldin Creek, and Barton Hills neighborhood associations.
The proposal calls for reforesting more than 75 acres of Zilker Park for people, wildlife, climate protection, and reducing the urban heat island effect.
If you like it, join us next Tuesday at 6:00 pm. for the City of Austin's next virtual meeting on the Zilker Park Vision Plan. Register for the meeting here. Tell them you support the Rewilding Zilker plan, along with any other comments you might have.
Also, there will be a public comment period for a few weeks following the Tuesday virtual meeting. You'll have time to comment on whatever the City's park planner consultants may propose at the Tuesday "Design Alternatives" meeting. We'll keep you informed as well.
Read the press release here on the new Rewilding Zilker Park report, and please consider a tax-deductible donation to SOS today to help us pay for this powerful proposal for the future of Zilker Park.
The next month or two will be crucial for shaping the future of Zilker Park for decades into the future. With your voice and your support we can make Zilker the beautiful and more natural public park that we need it to be for everyone.
The SOS Alliance Board has voted unanimously to oppose the upcoming Prop A ballot measure. SOS joins Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Austin Parks Foundation, The Trail Foundation and many others who oppose this measure that would force Austin to cut essential services. You can view the list of those opposed and learn more at www.nowaypropa.com. Committing funding to expanding the police force will only further reduce funding available for parks, watershed protection, and a range of other public services supported by the City's general fund. Our parks and environmental protection efforts are drastically underfunded: Prop A would make things much worse.
Early voting begins on October 18th. Early voting lasts through October 29th and Election Day is November 2nd. Polling locations, a sample ballot, and more are available here on the Travis County Clerk website.
Join us Tuesday at 6 p.m. for the City of Austin's next virtual meeting on the Zilker Park Vision Plan. Register for the meeting here. Tell them you support the Rewilding Zilker plan, along with any other comments you might have. View our new Rewilding proposal here Rewilding Zilker Park, by restoration ecologist, park planner and owner of LandSteward.net, Elizabeth McGreevy. The proposal is sponsored by Save Our Springs Alliance, with support from the Zilker, Bouldin Creek, and Barton Hills neighborhood associations.
Also, there will be a public comment for a few weeks following the Tuesday virtual meeting. You'll have time to comment whatever the City's park planner consultants may propose at the Tuesday "Design Alternatives" meeting. We'll keep you informed as well.
The next month or two will be crucial for shaping the future of Zilker Park for decades into the future. With your voice and your support we can make Zilker the beautiful and more natural public park that we need it to be for everyone.
For now, don't swim at Sculpture Falls
The City of Austin issued a warning for people and animals to avoid swimming at the iconic Sculpture Falls swimming hole on the Barton Creek greenbelt. As far as we know, this has never happened before. The City detected a toxic compound produced by cyanobacteria. The toxin was found in the water column, not within large algae mats, so that it is more directly harmful to people and animals swimming in the water. Read the City’s press statement here. SOS is committed to finding and stopping the cause of this pollution as soon as possible.
Please Urge the Austin Parks Board to Vote Again to Keep Alcohol Sales Out of Zilker Park: The Austin Parks Board has voted twice recommending against the sale of alcohol at the recently restored Barton Springs concession stand. For technical reasons the Board is considering the matter for a third time at its meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, evening at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall. If you can attend this meeting (the Board’s first in-person meeting) to thank the Board for its previous votes and to urge the Board to do it again, please do.
If you cannot attend, please send an email to Sammi Curless, the Parks Board support person, firstname.lastname@example.org, with a copy to Parks Board Chair Dawn Lewis, at BC-Dawn.Lewis@austintexas.gov. Ask Ms. Curless and Chair Lewis to share your message opposing the sale of alcohol at Barton Springs (for public health, safety, and overcrowding reasons or for your own personal reasons) with the entire parks board. You can watch the Parks Board meeting live at 6:00 p.m. here. Thank you for weighing in; public engagement is working on this one!!
Last week, advocates of Oak Hill scored a victory in protecting the area’s namesake oak trees. This is the latest development in a federal case filed in 2019 by Save Barton Creek Association and others against the Texas Department of Transportation over the misnamed “Oak Hill Parkway”—a twelve-lane concrete mix-master that would rip through the Oak Hill community and destroy hundreds of the area’s oldest native trees.
Plaintiffs, represented by SOS attorney Kelly Davis and private attorney Bill Gammon, asked the court to order that TxDOT halt all tree clearing until a ruling on the merits of the case. Although the court declined to go that far, the plaintiffs got the outcome they wanted: the trees are safe, for now. Following a Friday hearing in which U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman instructed TxDOT not to knock down any more “potentially protectable” trees pending a hearing on the merits, TxDOT notified its contractor to cease all tree clearing until the September 2 hearing. Success! Ultimately, a win in this case would send TxDOT back to the drawing board to evaluate alternatives to alleviate traffic in Oak Hill, including a community-supported alternative that could be delivered faster, cheaper, and without the environmental destruction of TxDOT’s currently proposed mega-highway.
Show your support for the cause by adopting a tree in Oak Hill here.
Join Us Tuesday 6:00 p.m. for Zilker Park Vision Plan Virtual Meeting
The City of Austin is hosting the second virtual community meeting in the Zilker Park Vision Plan process next Tuesday at 6:00 p.m.. Go HERE to register to participate in the meeting.
You can read about the Zilker Park plan process, view the recordings of previous community and small group meetings, and read the baseline inventory of park resources and issue challenges HERE
The Tuesday community meeting is supposed to be focused on "programming" in Zilker Park. This encompasses events, like ACL, trail of lights, kite fest, etc, as well as summer camps, SOS's Barton Springs University Day (this year set for Sept. 21) and our BSU walking tours. However, the City will consider all comments on what you would like to see changed, restored, or kept the same; what works and what doesn't work.
Overall, SOS is asking that Zilker park be restored and managed to be more park and less amusement park.
Programming should focus on environmental, historic and cultural education. All programming, including major events and day-to-day operations should greatly increase non-car access to the park, and reduce car storage and car habitat within the park. In short, more park and less parking and pavement.
Commercialization of the park should be reduced, not increased, and alcohol should not be sold in the park except at permitted events. We should increase park rangers and volunteer park stewards to make Zilker safer and more welcoming to everyone.
Please consider including these points in your comments to the City.
SOS Alliance is working with park neighbors and others to develop more detailed recommendations for the future of Zilker Park. We are closely monitoring the public input that is being gathered, and we invite you to share your thoughts, either directly to us and/or through the City public input process.
We hope to see you Tuesday evening at the virtual meeting.
HELP SOS SAY "RESTORE ZILKER PARK"
Zilker Park, including Barton Springs, is one of the most iconic and special places in Austin. It helps define our city’s connection to nature. It offers us a centralized gathering place for our communities. And, it provides us a quick, temporary escape from the stresses of our day-to-day lives.
As Zilker Park has increased in popularity so too have challenges with the park's availability and accessibility for average Austinites. Conflicts have begun to emerge between competing park users, as corporate events like Austin City Limits have expanded their footprints and have shut down the park for longer periods of time. And, once grassy areas have been used illegally as overflow parking, degrading environmental quality and making these spaces unusable for recreational activity at all times during the year.
To put together a long-term comprehensive plan for the restoration and future use of Zilker Park, the City of Austin Parks Department recently launched the Zilker Park Vision Process. The Save Our Springs Alliance will be participating in this process to encourage the City to restore Zilker Park as a natural and recreational park, accessible to the general public at all times.
Parks across the entire City are facing tremendous pressure to further develop, commercialize, and privatize. This is not the future that we want for Zilker Park.
Here are some suggested points of emphasis that SOS will be advocating in this process:
City staff has indicated that the "conditional use permit," or CUP, that would allow sales of alcohol at the new version of the Barton Springs concession stand will not be heard by the Planning Commission until September. A majority of the Parks Board has indicated their opposition to the permit, and overwhelming public input has been aligned with SOS's opposition to alcohol sales next to the pool, playground, and Zilker train. Many thanks to everyone who has spoken up on this and please stay engaged with us until the final decision is made.
Progress & Big Win on Blanco River
Major progress on the Blanco River in Blanco
Last week, the City of Blanco took some major steps towards responsible management of its wastewater. Specifically, the City Council voted to double their storage pond capacity, seek out customers who want to use treated wastewater for irrigation and other purposes, and authorize the Blanco Water Reclamation Task Force to explore One Water pathways for the city. These measures help ensure Blanco will not be in the position of having to dump their wastewater into the Blanco River now and in the future. The City Council did not withdraw its pending permit application to discharge wastewater into the Blanco River, but SOS and our allies in this effort, Protect Our Blanco and Wimberley Valley Watershed Assn., are hopeful the City Council will do that in the near future. Stay tuned.
Big win on the Blanco River in Kyle
Last week visiting senior Judge Margaret Mirabal reinstated a lawsuit by Save Our Springs Alliance against the City of Kyle challenging the City's approval of a 101 page development agreement covering over 3000 acres of land on the banks of the Blanco River allowing essentially carte blanche unregulated development of the land for up to 50 years. The development agreement was approved with almost zero notice to the public and with no time for Kyle City Council members to even read the agreement. If allowed to stand, the agreement also requires the City to heavily subsidize the development, including helping fund construction of a new bridge across the Blanco River. Judge Mirabal had previously granted the City's attorneys' request to dismiss the lawsuit; she reversed that earlier order in response to SOS's motion to reconsider the prior ruling.
There's still a long way to go, but we have a strong case that a City Council cannot under Texas law give away its regulatory powers to private landowners or bind future city councils to approve and subsidize whatever a landowner wants to build.
Comment Period Extended to May 20th on Permit to Discharge Treated Sewage into a Barton Creek Tributary
It’s not too late to submit comments on the draft discharge permit that would allow a private developer to discharge up to 45,000 gallons per day into the Long Branch tributary of Barton Creek.
The comment period has been extended until May 20th at 5 pm.
TCEQ has received over 700 comments so far, all opposing the draft permit. Let’s keep the pressure up! If you haven’t submitted comments yet, see our talking points for inspiration.
And thank you to everyone who has already submitted comments!
To submit a written comment to TCEQ: Go to this online link: https://www14.tceq.texas.gov/epic/eComment/, and enter permit number: WQ0015594001.
And thank you to those who attended Tuesday’s virtual public meeting on the draft permit, at which citizens were able to ask questions of the applicant and TCEQ staff. About 60 people participated, and 25 gave formal public comment. The comments were inspiring, informative, and united in their OPPOSITION to this draft permit.
Joining Save Our Springs in opposing the draft permit are the Cities of Austin and Dripping Springs, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Lower Colorado River Authority, Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, Save Barton Creek Association, Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, the Polo Club Neighborhood Association, Travis County Commissioner Ann Howard, and ~700 citizens who have submitted public comment.
Suggested Talking Points:
I oppose the draft permit (No. WQ0015594001) that would allow wastewater discharge into Long Branch Tributary of Barton Creek and urge TCEQ to deny this permit.
The proposed discharge would convert Long Branch, a clear, swimmable creek, into a wastewater-dominated conduit of pollution into Barton Creek.
The health of recreational users of Long Branch and Barton Creek could be threatened by elevated bacteria, algal blooms, and pharmaceuticals and personal care products.
The effluent threatens the sensitive aquatic species that have adapted to high-quality waters, including the federally endangered Barton Springs Salamander and Austin Blind Salamander.
The proposed discharge will degrade the water quality of our two major aquifers, the Edwards and the Trinity and thousands of well-owners and residents who rely on them for their drinking water.
TCEQ failed to model or analyze the effects of the proposed discharge on the receiving creeks, repeating the same mistakes that a Travis County District Court found unlawful in last year’s decision overturning the Dripping Springs discharge permit into Onion Creek.
Help Stop Concrete Plant in Oak Hill
Please Attend: Community Meeting to Stop Concrete Batch Plant in Oak Hill
On Saturday, April 17th at 10:30am, Rep. Vikki Goodwin will be hosting a community meeting to discuss TxDOT's plan to build a concrete batch plant at the ACC Pinnacle Campus in Southwest Austin. This concrete batch plant would provide concrete for TxDOT’s planned 12-lane mega-highway expansion of the SH 71 and US 290 intersection, through the heart of Oak Hill.
Despite drastically changed community patterns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and two ongoing lawsuits from environmental stakeholders, TxDOT is forging ahead with the highway expansion project and is set to begin construction this year.
Adding injury to injury, in early March, news broke that a TxDOT contractor, Colorado River Constructors, intends to build a concrete batch plant on the ACC Pinnacle Campus. News of the concrete batch plant location came as a shock to community leaders, as the Austin Community College Board of Trustees approved the negotiations and execution of a five-year lease with the TxDOT contractor, with no mention of the concrete batch plant on their agenda or in the related backup materials.
Because this site is immediately adjacent to several homes and apartments, neighbors of the facility have expressed concerns about the human health consequences of living with such a close proximity to a batch plant (such as respiratory diseases and certain cancers).
Help Needed from Austin City Council
On Thursday, April 8th, representatives of the Save Our Springs Alliance, Save Barton Creek Association, and Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods went to the Austin City Council to request help and intervention. On their agenda, the Austin City Council was being asked to consider the initiation of three eminent domain cases to move utilities to make way for the highway expansion. SOS and others asked that the Austin City Council deny or otherwise postpone these items until TxDOT finds a suitable alternative location for the concrete batch plant.
Unfortunately, the Austin City Council narrowly passed those items on a 6-3-2 vote. The Save Our Springs Alliance thanks Council Members Leslie Pool, Kathie Tovo, MacKenzie Kelly, Greg Casar, and Ann Kitchen for opposing or abstaining from their approval.
That said, the fight isn't over.
The Save Our Springs Alliance and Save Barton Creek Association are continuing to pursue their lawsuits related to TxDOT's failure to comply with federal environmental requirements. And, we will continue to demand that the City of Austin enforce its zoning and environmental regulations on the ACC Pinnacle Campus, which might prevent that site from being used for this noxious, industrial use.
In the meantime, we encourage our members to reach out to their elected leaders requesting that the fight for an alternative location for the concrete batch plant and demand that TxDOT adjust the design of the highway to scale back the environmental damage associated with the highway project
April 01st, 2021