City of Austin looking to install gates in the upstream dam of the Barton Springs Pool

The City of Austin is looking into installing gates in the upstream dam of the Barton Springs Pool. The gates would allow water from Barton Creek to enter the pool during certain flow periods. 

“Every time that the pool floods [it] is filled with flood debris, and it takes weeks to clean that out. If you had gates that could bring in some of the freshwater from the creek after the flood subsides, you could essentially get some free pressure washing in the pool to help remove some of that debris out of there.” explained Mike Kelly, managing engineer for the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department. Kelly says the gates could cut down on the amount of time the pool is closed after a flood. 

However, Daniel Opdyke, an environmental engineer is skeptical. “You’re not gonna scour the materials with the amount of flows that they’re talking about here. They would have to let in a lot of water, far more water than anybody wants really in order to scour that. I’d like to see a study that demonstrates the sediment transport in that part of the pool because physically it doesn’t appear to make sense.” he said. 

Opdyke, and his wife Heidi Armstrong, who is also a Barton Springs stakeholder, are concerned about the proposal. “This water would be coming in where children play, so they’re gonna get the brunt of the contamination, the E. coli, the condoms the needles, and all the other garbage that’s in the creek.” Armstrong said. 

Studies show that E.Coli levels are higher in the creek than they are in the pool, but both levels meet state standards. 

“Right now there’s not any indication that the levels from Barton Creek would raise the levels in the pool to anything that would threaten health standards.” Kelly said. 

Obdyke countered that there are “very few data points over the last twenty years,” and said he would “like to see more data.” Adding that “levels below state standards can, and do make people sick.”

Kelly said the city isn’t just focused on swimmers, but on the pools more permanent residents. They believe the gates would allow more animal and plant life to spill over from the creek into the pool improving habitat:  “I’m very sympathetic to that argument, I’m not a biologist, but I’m very familiar with the connectivity argument of freshwater habitats and I think that there could be some real benefits to letting organisms into the pool.” said Opdyke,