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.
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