The Austin Chronicle

The Signs of Degradation

By Amy Smith, August 3, 2001, News

Here are some of Fish & Wildlife's findings on construction activity in the Barton Springs watershed and the health of Barton Springs. The report is a review of the EPA's process of awarding permits allowing storm water discharge from construction sites. According to the wildlife service, EPA's permitting system -- which depends on developers themselves determining whether their construction discharge will harm natural habitats -- simply isn't working.

  • An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 acres of property are currently under construction in the watershed, with about 300 projects permitted by the EPA.

  • Four pesticides were documented in 2000 at both Barton Springs Pool and Eliza Spring. Three were below toxicity levels to aquatic animals, but Diazinon, a pesticide commonly used in commercial and residential areas, was found at levels that have harmed aquatic life.

  • Golf courses contribute runoff that contains elevated levels of nutrients from fertilization, as well as elevated levels of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. There are currently five golf courses in operation in the Barton Springs watershed, with another eight planned for development.

  • Heavy metals, including arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc have been found in the springs, with higher levels detected at sites downstream of development. The report cites previous studies conducted in 1997 and 1994.

  • Groundwater quality in developed areas of the watershed is showing signs of degradation, with elevated levels of sediment, fecal-group bacteria, heavy metals, nutrients, and oil and grease. Surface water is more easily controlled, but this, too, shows signs of degradation in developed areas.

  • Over the next two years, Fish & Wildlife projects an additional 2,000 to 5,000 acres of construction within the watershed, bringing with it increased levels of pollution. Meanwhile, existing pollution is already damaging the salamander's food sources. While it's impossible to estimate the current salamander population, the wildlife service notes: "Declining trends in the salamander population may not be known until it is too late to change the outcome."
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