Representatives of the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will present the first of several public forums on reducing bacterial contamination in Austin Creeks on Wednesday.
The forum will focus on four creeks (all north of the river) where bacteria levels exceed standards allowed for recreation: Spicewood Tributary of Shoal Creek, Taylor Slough, Waller Creek and Walnut Creek.
The meeting is an effort to get the public involved in solving water quality problems. Like the four creeks above, our creek, Country Club Creek West, exceeds the state standards for bacteria. The forum is an opportunity for our residents to learn about watershed integrity, and for representatives of city and state agencies to learn about our concerns for our own watershed.
Pond and creek issues
Water quality in the spring-fed pond in Mabel Davis Park and in Country Club Creek West is a prime reason that some area residents oppose a proposed off-leash area (OLA) in the park. (See conceptual drawings.)
If built, the OLA would sit on an environmentally sensitive part of the park, over illegally dumped pesticides that are sealed under a clay cap, but that could be released if heavy use causes erosion. The facility could also bring more dogs to the park, potentially contributing to one of the biggest problems in Austin’s waterways, fecal contamination. The pond would be adjacent to and downhill from the OLA, capturing its runoff.
City representatives have seemed unconcerned about the possibility of contamination, in part because the pond isn’t used for recreation such as swimming. However, watershed integrity in the Country Club East and West watersheds already is ranked bad, poor and fair, worse than in the creeks that are the focus of the forum.
Longtime residents say that the pond is looking less healthy and biologically diverse than it has in their memories. Where they once saw a variety of birds and fish, they’re now seeing more dead turtles, aquatic weeds and debris.
Tim Ornes, who has an interest in the beauty and the science of the pond, as well as life science education in secondary schools, lives in a house that backs up to the park. He videotaped the pond on the day after Thanksgiving to inspire a dialogue about conditions there.
This isn’t the first time concerns have been raised about the watershed. Originally a landfill, Mabel Davis Park was contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals that contributed to the worst watershed integrity in the city for many years before a 5½-year environmental cleanup started in 1999. One crisis along the way was a fish kill in 1979 that has inspired curriculum on water pollution for middle schoolers.
Get involved: It would help our neighborhoods to have residents get informed and represent our interests at the upcoming series of public meetings. Please contact your neighbors by using our neighborhood message boards if you plan to attend.
Learn more: The upcoming Improving Austin Stream Quality meeting is discussed in video from a Nov. 7 Environmental Board meeting (item 5B). Read a February 2012 city report on the need to monitor creeks where bacteria impairs recreation. Read a Nov. 20 Austin American-Statesman story about the meetings. And check out the new Watersheds & Water Quality links on the right rail of this blog to find — and find out more about — your watershed
Improving Austin Stream Quality forum
When: 6:30-8 p.m. Nov. 28
Where: Room 325, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road
More information: UT Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution or City of Austin Watershed Protection Department
You can post a comment below to tell us what you’ve noticed at the pond and the creek that runs through our neighborhoods.
Update: Four neighborhood representatives attended the Nov. 28 forum, which provided public input on a coordination committee to develop a plan for reducing creek contamination. The next forum will take place Jan. 8. See the neighborhood calendar for details.
Coming up on April 13 is CleanSweep, Keep Austin Beautiful’s annual city-wide cleanup. Start thinking now about public places and waterways that would benefit from volunteer efforts, and we can ask to include them in CleanSweep.