The Save Our Springs Alliance – previously the SOS Legal Defense Fund and, before that, the SOS Coalition – has been receiving "Best of Austin" awards almost as long as it’s been around, a fitting tribute to a homegrown organization that, since its inception, seems never to have taken a day off. SOS formed in the wake of the legendary citizen victory of 1990, when 800 people signed up to speak to City Council in opposition to a 4,000-acre planned unit development in the Barton Creek Watershed. An all-night meeting ensued, ending with council’s unanimous rejection of the PUD, a success that fueled the formation of SOS in the interest of pushing for better watershed protections. It was no easy fight getting the SOS ordinance on the ballot, but two years later, once voters could have their say, the ordinance passed 2 to 1. That 1992 triumph, of course, was only the beginning. Developers – often with the help of the council and the Texas Legislature – have been unwavering in their attempts to build out the watershed and chip away at the ordinance, and it’s been the ever-vigilant SOS Alliance that has stood in their way. The alliance hasn’t always come out on top, yet it’s been known to turn defeat into victory through tireless court battles, and through its efforts it has become not just the protector of the springs and the Edwards Aquifer but the heart of the environmental community. Then again, SOS victories have often simply been reminders of how much further Austin has to go. After all, in 1993 – the same year the Barton Springs salamander was named after the alliance (given the name Eurycea sosorum, a Latin "plural mixed-gender genitive form" of the acronym SOS) – a biological survey could find only 27 Barton Springs salamanders. While most of the alliance’s "Best of Austin" catalog rightly recognizes its efforts to improve Austin and control pollution, the most fitting tribute so far may have been the 2001 Critics Pick for Best Upstream Swimmers. But in measuring the importance of SOS’ work, perhaps most telling is not the awards received by SOS but by the springs themselves. Known as the “soul of Austin,” Barton Springs has received 35 "Best of Austin" awards through the years, while Zilker Park has gotten more props than any other award winner in Chronicle history – all of which should rightly be shared by the tireless upstream swimmers at SOS. They have never given up on Austin’s soul – and Chronicle readers have never given up on them.
Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin. Support the Chronicle