AUSTIN (KXAN) - A sink hole in Southwest Austin may provide some important information for protecting one of our city's most precious resources -- the Edwards Aquifer.
Researchers are getting a better understanding of how groundwater flows.
Rains in late January caused this 20 foot deep sink hole near William Cannon and Mopac.
When the ground opened up a retention pond failed. That pond is supposed to collect parking lot run off and treat it naturally.
"It's re-irrigated around the development and then natural vegetation helps clean up the water before it enters the aquifer," said City of Austin geologist Scott Hiers.
But the sink hole sent several million gallons of untreated water into the ground.
"To stop that dirty water from entering the aquifer, the owners have blocked up the pipes that feed water to this pond and have diverted it to an adjacent water quality pond on the other side of the road," said Hiers.
City of Austin geologist Scott Hiers says usually sinkholes are found before construction projects, not after.
But since this happened, the city and Edwards Aquifer Conservation District used it to their advantage. They put non-toxic dye into the hole to track the flow of the water underground into wells and springs.
"Development here is increasing around the springs. The way pollution works, I guess, it's complicated to see where it comes from and so yeah, I think it makes sense there's an initiative to find out how that works," said Barton Springs visitor David Fisher.
Finding out exactly where that water flow will end up and how long it will take to get there gives city leaders the opportunity to prepare for a potential hazardous materials spill which could one day be crucial to saving the springs and the Barton Springs salamander.
"If there is like a huge spill on Mopac or William Cannon we can tell well if it to a sink hole feature or a cave feature nearby how long we would have to respond maybe at Barton Springs to save the salamanders, pull them or leave them -- if we don't think it's a large enough spill to cause harm," said loosen.
It's helpful test that came from bad circumstance.
"If it's to protect the environment I think it's a great measure to take but let's not lose regulations. Let's keep things protecting the aquifer and Barton Springs and the salamander," said Barton Springs visitor Kristi Shuey.
The city will continue to monitor wells along the aquifer as well as water in Barton Springs and Cold Springs.
They'll know where the dye ends up in a few weeks.
As for the that sink hole, the owner of the property will work with the city and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to come up with a plan to fix it.
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