The City of Austin must have an approved permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in order to operate and use Barton Springs Pool. The permit was first issued in 1998 for a fifteen year term, after the FWS listed the Barton Springs Salamander as an endangered species. The permit allows for the “incidental take” of salamanders, meaning some minor or incidental harassment, threat, or loss to these spring dwelling amphibians can occur. The permit specifies allowable pool operations, maintenance, cleaning, and water management – ensuring all practices can minimize or eliminate threats.
The permit expires in 2013 and the city is seeking a replacement permit of twenty years duration that will also addresses the likely listing of the Austin Blind Salamander. In the permitting process, the City seeks input from the public on any permit changes, concerns, or other issues that are important and germane. Already, the Friends of Barton Springs Pool have offered testimony at briefings discussed before the Austin Environmental Board and Parks/Recreation Board. The city expects to have a public input meeting and open house at the pool in October, 2011.
The special conditions and requirements and prohibitions in the permit are very significant, in that the permit controls and restricts pool cleaning and maintenance techniques that are allowable in or near salamander habitat. In addition to day-to-day routines, short and long term projects for repair and restoration near salamander habitat are identified in the Barton Springs Pool Master Plan. The Friends are discussing these issues with the City staff, seeking a future permit that offers the flexibility to allow for effective pool cleaning and to avoid conflicts with the upcoming Master Plan projects. For example, the plan identifies restoration activities for Eliza Springs, Sunken Gardens, and their spring outlets flowing into Barton Creek. The Friends trust that the City and FWS can establish conditions and procedures that protect and enhance the salamander habitat, promote their populations, and yet still allow for continued use of the pool by the recreating public.
Please join us to participate in this comment period. Provide your thoughts. Attend the open house. Read more information that the Watershed Protection Department has posted at the following link:
By Tom Weber
Advocacy Director, FBSP