City proposes changes to Eliza Spring to help salamander population

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Wednesday evening people will get a chance to weigh in on a project to help protect one of Austin’s endangered species.  The city is proposing new changes at Eliza Spring to help enhance the salamander habitat.

“It’s important because it’s one of the only places that we can recreate salamander habitat for the endangered Barton Spring Salamander and the Austin Blind Salamander,” said Liza Colucci, an environmental scientist with the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department. “We spend most of our time focusing on the salamanders and trying to preserve the historical structures that exist while also maintaining the salamander habitat and having it be the best suitable habitat for salamanders.”

PUBLIC MEETING:

  • 4:00 – 5:00 p.m.
  • Wednesday Feb. 5, 2014
  • Beverly S. Sheffield Education Center (Splash!) at Barton Springs Pool

The sunken, fenced-off amphitheater right outside of Barton Springs Pool has been around for about a century.  Andrew Zilker built the oval amphitheater in 1903 as a meeting place.

Originally, the water from the Edwards Aquifer would flow from the spring through a concrete opening which would drain into Barton Springs.

The city said in the 1930s the bottom of the amphitheater was filled with concrete and a concrete metal pipe was put in place to re route the water under ground.

Colucci believes they did this to expand the park above ground, but over the years the concrete metal pipe has been filled with tree roots, debris and other problems which are not conducive for salamander habitats.

“What might have been an advancement in the 1900s wouldn’t necessarily have been the same as we would see it today,” said Colucci. “There’s a different perspective that maybe we’re taking from an ethological or endangered species perspective where at the the time it was human driven.”

The City of Austin proposes changes to save salamander habitat
The City of Austin plans to remove masonry key hole on East side of the spring to help create an open flowing stream.

Colucci said the pipes have impacted the population because it disconnected the surface habitat between Barton Creek and Eliza Spring. Also, over time the pipe needed a lot of repair work and required maintenance that wasn’t the best for the salamander habitat.

They plan on opening up the masonry key hole on the East side of the spring which would create a stream channel that will flow over land, also known as daylighting, and connect to the bypass tunnel at Barton Springs Pool.

The City of Austin proposes changes to save salamander habitat
In the 1930s crews poured concrete into the bottom of the amphitheater.  The City said it’s uncertain why this was done.

“We’re actually required to do this because it’s part of our federal permit that allows us to keep Barton Springs Pool open for the public for recreation in that permit we have conservation measures that required to do to protect the salamanders and one of those projects is this reconstruction project of this stream,” said Colucci.

The city said it has 60 percent of its designs complete to show exactly what it wants to do to correct the salamander habitat.   It will have the remainder of the construction plans finished by the summer.   It hopes to start construction by next winter.

Colucci said once this project is finished, the next one will be to remove the concrete slab that was poured into the spring.

According to the city website, the restoration is funded solely through the Watershed Protection Department’s Drainage utility Fee.

Many cities across the U.S. have been daylighting streams that were buried under slabs of concrete or pipes.  According to a group called American Rivers, opening up underground streams has shown benefits to environmental concerns, but also with flooding in urban areas.

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Eliza Springs is home to the largest population of the endangered Barton Springs Salamander. The Austin Blind Salamander also calls the spring home. They plan to add cobble and gravel in the renovations. Scientists say salamanders are hard to see because they usually hide under rocks.

 

 

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