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Austin Nature and Science Center Splash! Into the Edwards Aquifer

Austin Nature and Science Center Splash! Into the Edwards Aquifer

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11/27/2010

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,.
Austin Nature and Science Center
Splash! into the Edwards Aquifer
Instructor Training ManualFall
1996
written by Janice Sturrock"But besides their contribution to
an
outstanding swimming pool
and
to thepublic water system, the springs also have major ecological
and
geologicalvalues. They provide a window into a
part
of the earth's interior
and
affordclues to the operation
of
geologic, hydrologic and biologic systems alongthe Balcones Fault Zone and Escarpment". (Woodruff
&
Slade,1984).'
What is
an
aquifer?
An
aquifer is a permeable underground water bearing stratum of rock,
sand
or gravelthat stores, transmits
and
yields water
in
sufficient quantities for
human
use.The Edwards Aquifer
of
South Central Texas is a reservoir of water held
in
a cavernous,porous, honeycombed limestone formation located underground. The aquifer
was
formedabout 100 million years ago
when
much of Central Texas was covered
by
a shallow sea.Remains of small sea dwelling creatures such as shells and corals, were deposited on the floorof this sea
and
formed layers
of
what
is
now the Edwards Limestone
formation~
Over millionsof years, movements within the earth such
as·
earthquakes and faulting, shifted the rock,exposing sections of the limestone south and west of
what
is
now Austin.
About
17,000,000 years ago, shifting
in
the earth's crust caused major faulting
and
uplifting
which
resUlted
in
the Balcones Escarpment of Central Texas. (Water, WaterConservation and the Edwards Aquifer,
1994).
Rock fractures along fault lines allowed rainwater to infiltrate the limestone
and
dissolve rock,creating the honeycombed appearance and high porosity of the Edwards Aquifer.
(Hill
Country Foundation,
1995).
Today's aquifer
is
a lattice work of tiny holes, cracks, caverns andcaves
that
serve as a holding tank for water. Over millions of years, water dissolved parts ofthe limestone above the ground
and
carved
many
channels
and
caverns below ground.
In
Central Texas, the network
of
caverns and channels below ground is
what
is called theEdwards Aquifer.
1
\
 
,
..
ater enters an aquifer as precipitation
that
falls
in
the recharge zone.
It
eventuallymakes its
way
into the underground water table. Water leaves the aquifer through naturalsprings
and
artificial wells drilled into the aquifer.
n
What is Barton Springs?
Barton Springs is
an
oasis of clear, cold
water
located in Zilker Park
in
Austin, Texas.
It
is the fourth largest spring
in
the state, releasing
~ons
of
gallons of fresh water from theEdwards Aquifer each day. For many people
who
live
in
Austin, Barton Springs Pool providesan unique, spring fed swimming hole
that
offers relief from the long, hot, dry summers of
1
~.
Central Texas. For others, Barton Creek, whose waters feed the springs, offers a quiet, green,natural area just minutes from the hustle
and
bustle of downtown Austin.Barton Springs is like a big faucet for the Barton Springs segment of the EdwardsAquifer. About
95%
of water
that
enters the Barton Springs segment is discharges at BartonSprings. Water that enters the BartonSprings segment, comes from the watersheds of sixcreeks. The creeks are Bear, Little Bear, Slaughter, Williamson, Onion
and
Barton,
with
thegreatest amount of recharge coming from Barton
and
Onion Creeks. Basically, whateverenters the aquifer as recharge
in
these watersheds, is discharged
at
Barton Springs. Waterflows
out
of the pool, into Barton Creek
and
enters Town Lake. Austin's drinking watercomes from Town Lake.
n
-,'''1
."
...
~
..
'
I
These creeks wind through rural,
suburban
and
urban
areas. Barton Creek provides about
280/0
of the recharge to the aquifer,
and
water
entering Barton Creek reaches the springsquickly. Water from Onion Creek provides about
34%
of
the recharge that flows into thissegment of the aquifer. Because water flows
through
the Edwards Aquifer so quickly,disturbances that occur upstream can
be
measured
at
the springs
within
a matter of hours.(Slade,
et
al.,
1986).
The pool created
by
the springs provides the
city
with
its "jewel
in
the crown" of uniquenatural features that help define Austin's quality of life. The pool is a major recreationalattraction for Austin as well as a supplier for
part
of the city's municipal water supply. Waterfrom the springs enters Town Lake about one half mile upstream from the Green WaterTreatment Plant. This plant provides
mid
and
east Austin
with
drinking water, accounting forabout
280/0
of the total water for the city.The Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer is the middle segment
of
the largerkarst, limestone aquifer that underlies a region
known
as the Balcones Escarpment of Central
2
I
\0..,
I
 
 
·U
u
\ I
U
Texas. "The Balcones Escarpment lies along the major line of dislocation
of
the Balcones faultzone
..
" (Woodruff
&
Abbott, 1986). "The Aquifer
is
located·
where
it
is
because
of
the location,orientation
and
magnitude
of faults composing the Balcones Fault system." (Woodruff
&
Slade, 1984).The Balcones Escarpment
is
a line of
low
hills
that
extends
through
Central Texas.
It
is asurface expression
of
a deep-seated crustal discontinuity
in
which
dramatic changes
in
landscape occur. The Escarpment is also a major weather-maker.
Although the
limestone hillsare only a few
hundred
feet high,
they
offer the first topographic
break inland
from
the
Gulf
ofMexico. The Balcones Escarpment is the locus
of the
largest flood
producing
storms
in
the
contiguous United States. (Woodruff
&
Slade, 1984).The Balcones Escarpment
and
fault zone
provide
physical divisions
of
east
from west.Within
the
big
picture of
North
America, the Escarpment marks a
break between
the
Great
Plains to
thewest
and
the Coastal Plains to the east.
In
Texas, this division
is
marked
by
relatively flat,· clay soils
and
more
abundant
rainfall
of the
Blackland Prairie
and
coastalregions
to
the
east,
and
the hilly,
thin
limestone soils of the
Hill
Country
and
desert
regions tothe west.
(Woodruff&
Abbott, 1986).
In
the 1800s, lifestyles
were determined
by
the fault
line
with
cotton
farming and urban
areas developing
to
the east
and
ranching developing to
the
wes~.
(Woodruff,
¥arsh
& Wilding, 1993).
I
The abundance of
waterprovided
by
Barton Springs has
determined
flora
and
fauna
of
the
area as
we¥
as
the
development
of
human
settlements for the
last
11,000 years. The springs
were
one
~f
the
main
attractions for development
of
the city
of
Austin
in
the 1830s. The
great
diversity
of
plants
and
animals
in
the Austin area is dictated
by
the fault zone.Species of
plants
and
animals
found
in
Central Texas along
the
Balcones fault zone are
numerous
because
the
fault creates
an
"edge"
in
which two
ecological zones meet. Greatdiversity
of
both plant and
animal life
can
exist. Species from
both
ecological zones are
found
within
short
distances of
one
another. For example,
to
the east there
is the
fox squirrel
and
to
the
west,
its
counterpart, the rock squirrel. The
blue
jay is the eastern
counterpart
to
the scrubjay
of
the Hill Country. Some species are limited
by
the fault zone
such
as those
dependent
upon
plants whose distribution is determined
by
the fault.Today, there is
much
competition for
water
in
the
Edwards
Aquifer.
Children
who
live
in
and
around
Austin
will determine the future
of
the aquifer
and
the
springs
with
their choice
of
lifestyles
and
their votes for elected officials.
How
much
they
know,
understand
and
care
3

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