Before Save Our Springs ...

Big events in Austin's enviro history, pre-SOS

A selection of landmark events in Austin's early environmental history, excerpted primarily from the early chapters of Scott Swearingen's Environmental City.

1960s: Chemical plant drainage kills "all the fish in Town Lake"... Activist Roberta Crenshaw blocks developer effort to turn half of Lake Austin into theme park... Travis Heights resident Jean Mather thwarts attempt to lay pipe in Blunn Creek.

1970: Citizens for a Barton Creek Park – first group to "focus public attention on the Barton Creek watershed" – proposes 13-mile "wilderness park along the creek from Zilker Park ... to Highway 71."

1971: Voters reject joining "joint venture nuclear generator facility"... "Environmental councilman" Lowell Lebermann helps establish Office of Environmental Resources Manage­ment (putting environmental considerations into the zoning process) and citizens environmental board (helping council members and citizens access information about development projects).

1972: Activists Virginia Bedinger and Mary Arnold lead first successful Save Muny (municipal golf course) campaign... Crenshaw and Parks Director Beverly Sheffield overcome city resistance to Town Lake Beautification Project when Lady Bird Johnson joins effort; group secures funding for trail system, trees, and amenities around the lake.

1973: Nuke returns to ballot, wins by 722 votes, becomes "black hole of cost overruns"... Construction of Barton Creek Square mall begins on Barton Creek Watershed: "Within hours ... the water emerging from the springs turned dark and silty."

1975: Now or Never group raises funds for 277-acre Wild Basin Preserve as West Lake Hills suburbs gobble up Hill Country... Council candidates run as "environmentalists" for first time... Voters approve bond to buy Barton Creek land – city eventually can only afford half of the land approved, because council members cozy with creek-side landowners postpone purchases... Austin Tomorrow plan – first comprehensive plan to include citizen input – recommends directing development away from environmentally sensitive areas and builds "network of neighborhood organizations" that becomes defining feature of local politics.

December 1975: Voters reject water/sewage bond package as "developer's dream" – ironically leaving city unable to fund annexation of environmentally sensitive areas identified by Austin Tomorrow.

1977: State lawmakers pass municipal utility district legislation that speeds up dense development in precisely those areas Austin Tomorrow targeted for slow growth.

1980: Barton Creek Ordinance passes – council then grants variances to 80% of development projects covered by ordinance.

1981: Voters kick nuke to curb, get stuck with it anyway when no one buys Austin's share.

1982: Blunn Creek Preserve opens after Mather and others lobby city to buy and preserve the land... McKinney State Falls Park closes to swimmers because of sewage from South Austin developments upstream.

1985: Town Lake Park Alliance organizes against plan to build convention center at Auditorium Shores; voters reject center 67% to 32%.

1985-86: "First environmental council" comes to power, dedicates "all city-owned land" along Town Lake as parkland, passes Comprehensive Watersheds Ordinance.

1987: First "Austin bashing" state legislation weakens city's ability to enforce water-quality ordinances and introduces "grandfathering exemptions," setting stage for Save Our Springs battles to come.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Environmental City, Scott Swearingen, Roberta Crenshaw, Austin Tomorrow Plan, Barton Creek Watershed, Mary Arnold, Barton Creek Square Mall, municipal utility district, Earth Day 2010

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