The one water quality measurement that resists improvement in Shoal Creek is the E. coli count. Here is the scoop on poop. According to the CCME,
E. coli is short for Escherichia coli. It is a species of bacteria naturally present in human and animal excrement, and is part of the “coliform” group of bacteria. This group of bacteria, and E. coli in particular, has been used as an indicator of the bacteriological safety of water since it was first isolated from faeces in the late 19th century.
The Commons looking south, Pease Park, Austin, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
Pease Park is dominated by open space, land that is undeveloped and available for unplanned, spontaneous recreation. I am not arguing that the land is in pristine condition. In general the park is worn out. I am pointing out that there are no structures that would prevent the land from being restored.
The City of Austin is planning to attempt creekside restoration in the park in the next couple of years. In general the work is triage for stormwater erosion. One of the recommendations made by the consulting engineer is to convert Custer’s Meadow (the open space nearest to West 24th on the west side of Shoal Creek) into a rain garden.
Dusky dancer (Argia translata), Shoal Creek, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
Birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it…
Bugs do it, too. Shoal Creek is abuzz with bug sex. Fall is approaching, and sex is do and die.
Dusky dancer (Argia translata) mating pair, Shoal Creek, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
Bugs are small and easy to miss. Walk the creek bed and look closely. Damselflies and dragonflies (odonates) are swarming, vying to reproduce before winter puts an end to them.
The most abundant damselfly currently along the creek is the dusky dancer (Argia translata). Look for pairs perched in the sun along the rocks and in the vegetation adjacent to the water. Without going into the details I will simply say that damselfly sex is complicated.
Lady Bird Lake (Colorado River) at the mouth of Shoal Creek by Ted Lee Eubanks
Shoal Creek at 2 inches of rain, Pease Park, Austin, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
Rapid urbanization in the United States (i.e., Austin) has resulted in stormwater runoff becoming the greatest threat to water quality in the U.S. today. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 40% of U.S. waterbodies do not meet water quality standards, and the leading source of water quality impairment is polluted stormwater runoff.
Let’s define stormwater runoff as rainwater that does not infiltrate into the ground because it lands on built or paved surfaces. Rather than soaking into the ground, this rainwater moves over the ground toward a lower elevation and into streams or other receiving waters.
West 3rd Railroad Trestle over Shoal Creek by Ted Lee Eubanks
New York has the High Line
New Yorkers have a way of making something large out of a little. They took an abandoned railroad line and repurposed it as a park. Now New York is moving to a Low Line. New Yorkers have a knack.
We have a trestle that is perfect for a High Line. A railroad line once connected downtown railroad stations to the main trunk across Shoal Creek at West 3rd. The trestle remains, paralleling the pedestrian bridge that crosses there. This trestle is within spitting distance of the Austin Music Hall, Austin 360, and the nightlife on West 2nd and 3rd. This trestle is a High Line in the waiting.
West 6th Street Bridge, Shoal Creek, Austin, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
I have noticed something about me lately. Not just that I have grown older, but I sound older. I walk Shoal Creek and lecture any willing sap about the history of Shoal Creek, its bridges, and the WPA and CCC. I will happily fill them in about Colonel House and his football field, or about Custer’s camp and the Blind Asylum. I have become the haggard old man with the diaper pin holding his pants together mumbling about the good old days.
Let me mumble.
Custer’s Oak, Pease Park, Austin by Ted Lee Eubanks
Custer slept here. Or, to be more precise, Custer’s troops camped here. Custer and his wife lived in the Blind Asylum (now the Neill-Cochran House Museum), while his troops bivouacked along Shoal Creek immediately following the Civil War.
Custer and his men were in town to police the end of the war. Custer remained less than a year before being reassigned to Kansas. Apparently his wife, Libbie, expressed fond memories of her brief stay in our town.
Blotched water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster transversa), Shoal Creek, Austin, Texas by Ted Lee Eubanks
Summer is about to pass the torch (and I mean torch, literally) to what we celebrate as fall. Shoal Creek is dry, more a series of discrete pools and ponds than an actual creek. Late summer along Shoal Creek is the season for the water snake shake.
Water snakes are not water moccasins. The common water snake in Shoal Creek is the blotched water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster transversa). This snake is nonpoisonous, although it is frequently mistaken for the poisonous water moccasin. Blotched water snakes are not a threat to man, but they are hell on fish and toads.
My work has caught me. I depart tomorrow for nearly a month of travel, a short break, and another month on the road. The good news is that I like the places I am working (Kansas, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Grenada). The bad news is that I will miss summer on Shoal Creek.
This afternoon Virginia and I took a late stroll down to W 3rd. As you may know, I have been following the nesting of our resident fish. A few weeks ago I posted a story about longear sunfish and their spawning beds in the creek. Today I found sunfish still tethered to their beds. I wonder when we can expect to see young.
Mourning Dove along Shoal Creek near West 5th
Late this afternoon I decided to hike the creek down to W 3rd. My home is along Shoal Creek near W 24th; I can make this short walk in about an hour or so. I say “or so” since my pace depends on what I see and photograph.
My first impression? We need rain. The creek is retreating into its deepest holes. Fish, snakes, and turtles are crowded into the remaining pools. We are not as desperate as last summer, but I fear that by August we could be in the midst of another severe drought. Mourning doves were cooing their ways to water. Pray for a tropical storm.