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Creekside Story

In Zilker Park, near Barton Springs’ north gate and the Zilker Zephyr train station, you’ll see one of Austin’s environmental treasures – Eliza Spring.  To see the spring, look inside the historical, sunken, fenced-off amphitheater.

Eliza Spring is one of four springs in Zilker Park where the endangered Barton Springs and Austin Blind salamanders live.  The largest known population of Austin’s unique and endangered Barton Springs salamander makes its home in Eliza Springs.

Austin Blind Salamander.
Austin Blind Salamander

Barton Springs Salamander.
Barton Springs Salamander

The spring water bubbles up from the Edwards Aquifer, a natural underground reservoir, through holes built in the amphitheater floor.  The Edwards Aquifer is an underground layer of limestone rock containing water, which enters the aquifer through caves, sinkholes, and fractures on the land’s surface and flows through large openings in the limestone.  Some water flows back up to the surface at springs.

Karst landscape model.  Showing water movement through the Edwards Aquifer.
Water movement through the Edwards Aquifer

In the early 1900s, landowner Andrew Zilker built the amphitheater around Eliza Spring to serve as an Elks Club meeting space that could be cooled by the natural spring water.

The Eliza Spring amphitheater before construction.
The Eliza Spring amphitheater before this construction project

Historically, water leaving Eliza Spring formed a stream that flowed to Barton Creek, and an open section of the amphitheater allowed this natural flow.  Austin’s endangered salamanders lived in both Eliza Spring and its stream.

In the 1920s, the salamanders lost this valuable area of habitat when the stream became buried underground in a concrete pipe.

The spring water moving through the buried pipe.
The spring water moving through the buried pipe

As years passed and the pipe aged, it began to fail. In 2017, the City removed the old pipe and restored the stream to a natural state.

Construction of the restored stream.
Construction of the restored stream

Once again, the stream provides the needed water speed and depth, as well as hiding places and native plants to support native aquatic life, including our endangered salamanders.  The stream also provides pool and park visitors with a beautiful place to view important salamander habitat.

The northern lawn of Barton Springs Pool prior to the stream restoration
BEFORE:  The northern lawn of Barton Springs Pool prior to the stream restoration

The northern lawn of Barton Springs Pool prior to the stream restoration
AFTER:  2017 view of the north lawn with the restored stream

 

Aerial view of Eliza Spring and the restored stream
Aerial view of the Eliza Spring amphitheater and restored stream

When you’re at Zilker Park, be sure to also check out the free, family-friendly “Splash! Into the Edwards Aquifer” exhibit to learn about Austin’s natural springs and amazing underground world.  Peek into the salamander exhibit to see if the Barton Springs salamander is in view!

For more information about Austin’s endangered salamanders, visit www.austintexas.gov/salamanders.

Tagged: creeks, salamaders, eliza spring, barton spring

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About this blog

One of the ways the Watershed Protection Department meets its goals to reduce the impact of flood, erosion and water pollution is through riparian restoration. The community can get involved by adopting a creek, participating in restoration projects, and educating others about the benefits of these areas.

Healthy riparian zones (the land around creeks):

  • control erosion
  • purify water
  • stabilize creek banks
  • regulate water temperature
  • delay floodwaters
  • sequester carbon
  • recharge groundwater
  • provide plant and animal habitat

Creekside Story features creeks that the public can take an active role in supporting restoration efforts.  There are so many creeks to enjoy in Austin.  Check out the Find Your Watershed Viewer to learn which watershed you live in and the Environmental Integrity Index to learn more about their water quality. 

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