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Planning Commission OKs Barton Springs Master Plan

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

The master plan for the Barton Springs Pool, presented by planner David Johns, sailed through Planning Commission last night.

Since the first draft of the master plan was completed, it has been presented to multiple commissions, and the presentation has been different for each commission. Last night, Johns presented an overview of the plan with a focus on the short-term goals for the pool, many of which involve the study of the pool.

Barton Springs Pool, literally, has been stagnant for the last 70 years, Johns told the Planning Commission. Many of the short-term plans involve investigation of the flow of the pool’s water, as well as modeling the impact that changes to those waters would have on the delicate ecosystem.

The bottom line is a fine balance between the needs of the ecosystem that supports the endangered Barton Springs Salamander and measures that would improve the pool for swimmers, Johns said. Pilot studies in the short-term are intended to address five broad areas: water quality improvements; water quality studies; pool cleaning improvements; general grounds improvements; and building repairs.

During a brief question-and-answer session, the concerns were limited. Commissioner Jay Reddy, who made the motion to support the draft plan, wanted to see an emphasis on proper access to the pool by various modes of transit. Commissioner Saundra Kirk praised the consultants for their sensitivity to the ecosystem issues. And Chair Dave Sullivan also raised the idea that PARD should be working toward a Barton Springs bond proposal for the next bond election.

Despite all the attention heaped on the Barton Springs salamanders, the city still has difficulty defining exactly what it takes to encourage their proliferation in the pool, Johns said. Specific surveys will give the city a chance to understand the water flow and topography of the pool, and to create flood modeling that follow what impact changes in water movement and other measures upon the salamander population.

For instance, the city wants to improve the dams if the integrity allows it, Johns said. However, to improve the dams likely will increase water flow through the upper gates. That might benefit swimmers, but would it affect salamanders?

“We want to see what we can do within this pool system,” Johns said. “What can we do to improve the habitat for the salamanders that can also benefit the swimmers?”

For instance, the north bank is a key area for salamanders in the pool. The environment in that area, however, is extremely poor, Johns said. If the water were circulated more aggressively, the parks department would like to see how that flow affects algae growth and creek flow. That could also mean a temperature change in the pool, one that may or may not be a problem for local swimmers.

More visible changes to the Barton Springs pool will include a possible ADA trail from the south entrance of the pool. The roof and heating/air conditioning system will be replaced. Long term, the bathhouse would be renovated and the women’s dressing room area would be expanded. 

Other goals would include burying the overhead wires to have a more aesthetically pleasing setting for the pool. PARD also would like to re-connect Eliza Springs back to the pool to improve circulation and encourage salamander growth.

The city is tentatively planning to issue certificates of obligation in the amount of $6.2 million for work on the pool on Aug. 28. The matter is on this week’s Council agenda for approval of the official notice of intent to issue the certificates.

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