The Bypass Tunnel Update, or Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel?

So where does Barton Creek go when it gets to Barton Springs Pool?  It disappears into the sidewalk beneath your feet on the north side of the Pool into a structure known as the Bypass Tunnel or BT. In its entire 35 plus year history, it has had little or no major maintenance, has endured countless floods, use and abuse, but still it survives, and looks pretty darn good from the topside. When the Barton Springs Pool Master Plan was created, $250,000 was set aside for maintenance of the BT based primarily on its good looks on the outside.

But go inside the BT and the story changes.  It is then that you realize that it is an aging, cracking, 35 year old leaking tunnel that is full of holes which drain the pool and threaten the salamander. It was clear that the BT was going to need more than a facelift. In 2009 the City of Austin commissioned the engineering firm PKA to develop various options, including total replacement.  FBSP representatives attended many public meetings that year to provide input on the various options until a final option was selected, to the tune of $3.5 million.  Everything seemed to be going fine, when suddenly sometime in the summer/fall of 2010, the City of Austin (COA) pulled the plug on the final option and hit the restart button, do not pass go, go back to square one.
Continue reading “The Bypass Tunnel Update, or Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel?”

President’s Report

Restoring the rotunda entrance, preserving the tree court

by Robin Cravey

Sketch of restored rotunda entrance

From the first days that we  began advocating for repairs and improvements at the pool, one restoration has stood out. Moving the main entrance back to the central rotunda fires the imagination. Now, as we work on the general grounds improvements, is the time to make that move. And it won’t cost much.

Soon members of FBSP and BSPCC will begin a capital campaign to raise money to move the entrance.  It could cost $100,000. We’re going to need help. If you want to lend a hand (or contribute!) email me at

The plan to restore the entrance is simple. Cashiers would receive money at the glass windows in front. Swimmers would enter through a new door in the front wall to the left of the rotunda, then amble through the middle of the rotunda and out the glass doors at the back.  They would arrive outside between the two dressing rooms.

This plan is a simplification of the master plan design, and it was sketched out by Emily Little. She is an architect, a member of the Austin Heritage Society, and a member of BSPCC.

Sketch of new entry

The benefits of this move are many.  Honoring the original grand design of the bathhouse, reducing long lines at the entrance, and improving the sense of place are all important.  But most important is removing the heavy foot traffic from the tree court. That will allow the tree court to change from a busy throughway to a more peaceful and natural place for enjoying the trees.

We are working with Parks Director Sara Hensley, the staff, council offices, and others to realize this goal. Its exciting.

Quick dips

The grounds improvements include many great projects.  They’re in design now.  Construction will begin later this year.  Total cost is projected at $2 million.  I’ve listed a few projects below.

  • Installing a new pump will allow the staff to use another high-pressure hose while cleaning the pool, giving us a cleaner pool.
  • Building an accessible trail from the south entrance to the pool deck will make it possible for parents with strollers and other mobility-impaired swimmers to use that entrance.
  • Burying the power lines and installing new lighting will add to the beauty of the pool.
  • Expanding the fenced area on the south side will make room for more swimmers and an improved layout.

Flood Debris Removal Project Underway

Pad for crane

The pool is now closed to all swimmers. The staging areas for equipment are established. The pad for the crane is in place. The protective pathway has been built. (See photographs of the construction setup.) The next step was installing the coffer dam, which is now in place. When the crane arrives, the real work begins. Removing accumulated flood debris from the pool is expected to take four weeks. The city is planning to reopen the pool by March 12th.  For background on this project, see last month’s article here.

Protective pathway for crane

President’s Report

Pool will close January 24th for flood debris removal.

by Robin Cravey

The flood debris in the Pool almost began to seem like the weather.  As Mark Twain said, everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it.  But that’s about to change.

City Parks Dept. staff will give the contractor the go-ahead on January 17th.  The Pool will close to swimmers on January 24th and open again by March 12th.  When it opens, the giant slug of rocks, gravel, sludge, and stuff that raises the deep end bottom from 12 feet to 6 feet will be gone!  The bottom will be 12 feet deep again!

The process will be fascinating, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on it.  The contractors will set up a crane at the top of the hill on the south side.  Workers will set up a coffer dam around the flood debris and dewater that area.  Then the crane will lift out the debris so that it can be trucked away.

Removing the flood debris is part of an overall effort to restore the pool to a more natural state.  In a natural free-flowing creek, the flood debris would be washed down the creek.  Instead, the dam that forms Barton Springs Pool traps the flood debris, and the flood debris acts as a second dam, trapping more flood debris.

The giant bulge grows inexorably, slowly filling the pool and increasing stagnation.  It also traps silt, building up a deep oozing sludge on the bottom behind its rocky wall.  When the pool is full of swimmers, they stir up the sediment, turning the water thickly murky.

Once flood debris was dredged from the pool regularly, but the debris has not been thoroughly cleaned out since 1991.  This was part of a pattern of neglect.
Swimmers rebelled against the neglect of the pool in 2006, and began organizing volunteer cleaning sessions.  We called for action.  After a long public process, the Barton Springs Pool Master Plan was written, urgent short-term projects were funded, and long-term projects were adopted.   Among the short-term projects is removal of the flood debris.

We congratulate the staff on finally moving to get the job done.

Quick Dips

Long time Communications Chair Chasity Keen Larios (right, with FBSP President Robin Cravey) left the board to join the board of the DiscoverHope Fund.  We know she’ll do a dynamite job for them.

Emma Cravey (left) moved from Fun Chair to Communications Chair,
and Mary Yarrington (right) moved from Secretary to Fun Chair.

Pam Nelson (left, with Jane Cravey) joined the board as Secretary.

Star volunteer Kevin French (left, with Service Chair Jonathan Beall) has become our new vice-chair of Service.

Jennifer Malone has been appointed vice-chair of Fundraising.

Several vice-chair positions still available for those with the ambition.

The Flood Debris Should be Gone Soon!

The Friends of Barton Springs Pool have consistently supported the short term Master Plan Project funded in PARD to remove the flood debris and gravel that has created a shallower than normal bar in the deep end of the pool. The Friends have advocated for more regular and effective debris and gravel removal, something that has not been done at the pool in almost 20 years. The short-term project to remove the gravel bar now provides such a mechanism, using a crane to scoop out gravel not successfully removed in earlier trials.

Through the approval process, the City of Austin has worked closely with interested citizens to get input into the project design. An extensive permitting process involving U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and two other agencies reviewed the project to ensure the safety of the endangered salamanders. The gravel Bar Removal Project is now a reality, scheduled for be accomplished in January 2011 while the swimming crowds are away.

Unfortunately, the project must disrupt the pool environment to be accomplished. The project has been designed to minimize disturbance and to be as short and temporary as possible. According to PARD, the pool will be closed on January 24, and they estimate that it will reopen March 12.  During the shutdown, an access pad, crane pad, tree protection, and coffer dam will be placed, and the pool drained down some. Then, the crane will remove the gravel and the coffers, pads, and equipment will be removed.

Earlier this year, the City of Austin prepared a summary of how environmental protection will be maintained while the project is implemented. Please see more here (pdf).

Tom Weber, Advocacy Director, FBSP

November President’s Report

Senator Watson Presents SEP Fund Check to FBSP for Bypass Tunnel

Last month, I reported on the long series of successes FBSP achieved this year in cleaning the Pool, raising money, engaging the community, and having fun.  This month, I have a less inspiring report to make on the work city staff has done toward completing the short-term projects of the Barton Springs Master Plan.  Progress has been slow.

At the end of 2009, we published a timeline for some seventeen short-term projects for improvements to the Pool and surroundings.  These are projects that City Council approved and funded in 2007.  Our goal was to see every one of the projects completed or at least under contract by the end of 2010.

We were increasingly concerned that after more than two years not a single project had been completed.  In fact, very few had even been started.  Now, with another year past, the situation is a little better.

To be sure,  the deck is stacked against ever doing anything.  Each project requires cooperation between two or three city departments, public input, review by a special committee and several city boards and commissions, staff contract review,  one or more votes by the City Council, and approval by one or more state and federal agencies.  It’s an arduous gauntlet to run once.  To run it fifteen or twenty times, concurrently, is a huge effort.

Members of FBSP and the Barton Springs Plan Coordinating Committee have been actively involved, every step of the way, testifying before committees, boards, commissions, council, and agencies.  We’ve also paid visits to staff members, consultants, council members, legislators, and others.  We’ve published several comment memos on various projects.  Against the odds, we’ve nudged the projects forward.

Quick Dips

Renovation of the bathhouse roof

Bathhouse Phase One. This has been a bright spot.  The project, which includes roof replacement and upgrading various mechanical systems, is almost complete.

Flood Debris Removal. Despite some obstacles, removal of the flood debris, nicknamed the ‘gravel bar,’ is close to action.  If the Corps of Engineers completes their review by mid-December, as promised, the project will start in January and be finished in time for Spring Cleaning in late February.

General grounds improvements. Though the schedule has been slipping, this project is into the design and review stage.  Latest estimate is to begin construction in the last half of next year.

Bypass tunnel. This project was sent back to go early this year by a course change, and it has still not regained the ground lost.  However, the inlet grate and outlet gate, for which FBSP secured state funding, can move forward independently.

For a brief summary of all the short-term projects, click here.