City reaches milestone for cave site restoration

City staff members have completed a draft land management plan to protect the city’s natural resources at the William H. Russell Karst Preserve, the 191-acre Southwest Austin site previously known as the Blowing Sink Research Management Area.

The natural features of the land, which was formerly used as a livestock ranch, have been subject to decades of abuse, posing a threat to the Edwards Aquifer as well as several vulnerable wildlife species. Serving as a formal agreement among Austin Water, the Parks and Recreation Department and the Watershed Protection Department, the draft shared land management plan aims to restore and protect those natural features to improve regional water quality and habitat for sensitive wildlife.

In carrying on the legacy of the late William H. Russell, the most prolific cave explorer in Austin’s history, the plan also lays the foundation for welcoming contributions and involvement from the local cave community and other knowledgeable stakeholders. In addition to monitoring and restoration projects, that work may also include continuing the search for previously filled caves that the community has not yet discovered.

In April 1984, Russell and fellow cave explorer Nancy Weaver discovered Blowing Sink cave, the only known humanly accessible route to the water table within the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer. In total, nine other caves and sinkholes have now been found on the preserve, each feeding into the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer.

Since the discoveries, Watershed Protection has put $700,000 into the excavation and stabilization of five of the site’s large sinkholes, allowing stormwater to naturally drain and flow into the aquifer again.

Read more from Ryan Thornton with The Austin Monitor here.