AUSTIN (KXAN) - More than three years after storm runoff from a construction site dumped tons of silt into the creek that feeds popular swimming hole Hamilton Pool, part of that creek is clean.
The first two miles of Hamilton creek downstream from the construction site was scrubbed over the last few weeks by crews hired by Travis County. The county, along with Hays County, the state of Texas and some adjacent landowners reached a lawsuit settlement with the developers of an upscale residential area.
That settlement provided millions of dollars for the cleanup. Parts of the job were accomplished with special equipment operating on rubber tracks, designed to minimize environmental damage. In especially sensitive sections of the creek, workers used fire hoses, hoes, even brooms to carefully push the silt downstream to places where it could be collected.
"This is just an example of the creek where the silt is still present," said Dr. Victoria Harkins as she waded into a muddy section of creek in late July. Harkins is the civil engineer with Espey Consultants who was charged with leading the cleanup effort. As she enters the water, clouds of milky silt immediately begin to swirl around her boots. She lifts one of them out of the creek to reveal a coating of nasty paste-like goop dripping back into the water.
"So this is part of our cleanup, is to get rid of the silt in the bottom of the creek," she said.
Just last week, Harkins was back along the creek, marveling at the progress. The silt was gone from Hamilton Creek and its natural limestone bed was again visible. Spots that had been all but choked off by non-native plants growing on the silt had been opened up again. All manner of native plant and animal life was once more busy bringing life back to the area.
"If I had to put it in personal words," Harkins said. "I feel like we've given the creek a breath."
Another four miles of creek leading to the popular swimming hole operated by Travis County as a nature preserve are now getting a scrubbing of their own. When that's done, crews will tackle the pool, itself.
The ultimate test of the cleanup process, however, needed to await another heavy downpour. The road construction area that first fouled the creek had been shored up and planted with grass to prevent another storm runoff. The question was, would it hold. Tropical Storm Hermine provided the answer. The deluge sent water roaring down the bed of the newly scrubbed creek and to Harkins' delight, it was clear and clean.
"There are spots in here that are just breathtakingly beautiful and I'm very proud of how they look now," she said even before the rains came. "It's my wish that six months from now, you won't be able to tell that I was ever here. It'll look like it did 100 years ago."
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