Upper Barton Spring

with City of Austin Salamander Scientists

Salamander scientists regularly survey the endangered salamander population at Upper Barton Spring. Upper Barton Spring is the only one of four springs near Barton Springs Pool that has not been contained by human infrastructure. While it is an excellent salamander habit, it is also vulnerable because it is open to foot traffic.

Salamander Survey, November 9, 2021

An explanation of the terms used in the Salamander Survey video

  • When we talk about the “system”, we are referring to the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards aquifer. Historical flow of the springs ranges between 14.3 cubic feet per second up to 130 cubic feet per second. The average flow rate is 66 cubic feet per second.
  • A cubic foot is about 7.5 gallons.
  • A water table can be simply explained as the depth below which the ground is saturated.
Photo of Matthew Westbrook, Environmental Scientist; Sarah Donelson, Environmental Scientist; Nathan Bendik, Senior Environmental Scientist

Sarah Donelson, Environmental Scientist; Nathan Bendik, Senior Environmental Scientist; Matthew Westbrook, Environmental Scientist

“In addition to surveying, counting and photographing the salamanders every 3 months, we also gather some other data. We take some photos of the habitat, such as the substrate, where the springs come out, the rocks and the sediment. We also look at how many fish we see. If there are any predatory fish in the habitat, we make a note of that. We measure a few basic water quality parameters and the flow.”

— Nathan Bendik, Environmental Scientist Senior

There are two different types of endangered salamanders found in the Barton Springs complex.

Photo of Austin Blind Salamander
Courtesy Tom Devitt

Austin Blind Salamander

Photo of Austin Blind Salamander
Courtesy Lisa O'Donnell

Barton Springs Salamander

Protecting the Salamanders

The Austin Blind Salamander has only been found at the 4 springs of the Barton Springs complex. The Barton Springs Salamander when it was first described in the 90s was only known in these 4 locations, but since then they have been found in other locations outside of the park, so there are locations along Onion Creek, Little Bear Creek, there’s a well in south Austin where they have come out of. There is a spring along Lady Bird Lake, so our knowledge of their range has expanded since the early 90s. The system that they live in is still unique and it is a very small range for a species, which is part of why they are endangered. The Austin Blind salamander we have not seen at any of these other locations. That doesn’t mean that they are not there, but we have not yet found them.”

— Nathan Bendik, Senior Environmental Scientist

“While recreation is allowed in Upper Barton Spring, we would like to ask that people don’t sit right in the spring water. There are outfalls to the spring, right next to the Creek that are a bit better in terms of not stepping on salamanders. We have a sign that asks visitors not to walk on the rocks or disturb the Spring. Another thing that people do that is a bit more destructive, they will come here with tools and start digging out the Spring. They will move rocks and heavy boulders around to try to make the Spring deeper to make a better wading pool and all of these things can harm salamanders. They hide under rocks, and you are not going to see them, but if you are moving rocks or stepping on the rocks, they can easily be crushed.”

— Nathan Bendik, Senior Environmental Scientist

“Because of the salamander, the City of Austin has a habitat conservation plan. This plan outlines steps to mitigate the harm that humans have done and are doing to the species. It is a trade off between being able to operate Barton Springs pool. It’s one or the other. To operate the pool, we need a federal permit. To get the permit, we need this habitat conservation plan. To get the permit, there are several things that we need to do, so Eliza Spring and Sunken garden are both fenced and they are off limits to the public. That was not the case before the species was listed. So, that is part of our agreement to protect those habitats. Because we wanted to operate Barton Springs as a swimming pool, we needed to protect those other areas. The upper Barton Spring is left open to the public. We put up a sign. We try to educate folks and try to get them not to destroy the habitat.”

— Nathan Bendik, Senior Environmental Scientist
Photo of the Barton Springs Salamnder
Courtesy Ryan Hagerty

Link to this page from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to learn more about the Barton Springs Salamander.

Main springs of the Barton Springs complex

Locations of the 4 main springs that comprise the Barton Springs complex.