Up the Creek
February 22, 2014 | By Shoal Creek Conservancy
This blog post was written by Ted Lee Eubanks. To learn more about the author, please visit this site.
Members of the Shoal Creek Conservancy board of directors, along with an assortment of friends, toured the upper reaches of Shoal Creek in February. The tour stretched from Northwest District Park south to West 38th Street, then north to Lake Fail, and finally back to the park. We devoted most of our time to gauging the condition of the creek at various crossings and access points in this northern segment.
Shoal Creek is a suburban waterway for most of its length in this northern section. Unlike further downstream, the creek here narrowly wends its way past schools, churches, and backyards. The watershed has been developed for decades, and the margin of error for storm water management is narrow. In fact, some of the most significant damage during the 1981 Memorial Day Flood happened in these neighborhoods.
Lake Fail is a small impoundment immediately north of 183 near Mopac. This region is the headwaters of Shoal Creek, originally an area of springs and seeps. Most of these springs have been covered, channeled, and otherwise altered by development. Lake Fail is one of the lakes that captures runoff from Mopac and the surrounding development, but local springs apparently feed this impoundment as well. Lake Fail is one of two of these constant level lakes in the area of the Shoal Creek headwaters.
Shoal Creek emerges from beneath 183 and begins its 11-miles journey to Lady Bird Lake. There is nothing dramatic about its emergence. In fact, it is hard to imagine a less attractive start to what becomes a dramatically beautiful creek further south. Shoal Creek has been (as a Texan would say) “ridden hard,” and nowhere is its mismanagement (or lack of management) more obvious than in these upper reaches.
Austin has always considered Shoal Creek to more of a hindrance than an asset. The creek has been used (and valued) as an easy way to string a sewer line (one of Austin’s most significant waste lines runs down the middle of Shoal Creek). Storm water is straight piped into the creek from adjacent development. Locals still dump trash into the creek with regularity.
The fix will not be simple nor inexpensive. But also critical is a “big plan,” and the ability to see the potential of Shoal Creek away from the garbage, concrete, and water pipes. There is nothing ailing Shoal Creek today that cannot be cured with time and money. But even time and money will not purchase inspiration, and the willingness of people to see a destination even when the route is unclear.
The Shoal Creek Conservancy is committed to providing this vision. We have every intention to look at Shoal Creek in its entirety, from Lady Bird Lake to Lake Fail. We are dedicated to working with our neighbors to develop a practical, pragmatic, yet inspired strategy for resurrecting Shoal Creek from the miasma of past mistakes. We are determined to not allow these mistakes to be made again. If you would like to become a part of Austin’s most ambitious organization, considering joining the Shoal Creek Conservancy. We can do this, together.