Chlorine leak into Waller Creek prompts UT to close pool


Officials offered no time line for pinpointing the leak, completing any repairs and reopening the pool.

This is the university’s third reported pollution incident involving Waller Creek in the past six months.

The discovery that chlorinated water is leaking into Waller Creek has prompted the University of Texas to close the main race pool at its Jamail Texas Swimming Center, officials announced Thursday.

The pool was closed late Wednesday afternoon pending investigation and repairs. Officials said they could offer no time line for completion of the work. A swim meet known as the American Short Course Championship, which was scheduled for Thursday through Saturday this week, has been relocated to the Northside school district’s natatorium in San Antonio.

This is the university’s third reported pollution incident involving Waller Creek in the past six months. In September, UT reported that raw sewage flowed for nearly two years into the creek from an engineering building as a result of a plumbing contractor’s error. And sewage leak described as “minor” from a residence hall into the creek was reported to state authorities in February.

“Waller Creek is a prominent and highly valued feature of the university’s campus,” said John Salsman, director of UT’s Environmental Health and Safety Department. “These recent incidents are not acceptable and do not reflect the university’s commitment to protecting this natural resource. We will be looking for any common, root causes during this review and redoubling our efforts to safeguard the creek.”

Tests are being run to pinpoint the source of the leak in the 50-meter race pool, Salsman said. The swim center’s dive pool appears to be functioning properly, he said.

Officials are dechlorinating the water in the race pool, and they are working to determine how much pool water was pumped through the city of Austin’s sanitation system and how much leaked into Waller Creek.

Inspection at an outfall pipe in Waller Creek near the Trinity Parking Garage revealed a chlorine odor, chlorine in creek water and bleaching of soil, according to a university news release. No dead fish or fish in distress were observed.

The leak underscores some of the challenges faced by UT, the city of Austin and a nonprofit group as they work to revitalize an increasingly important urban waterway. Cleaning up Waller Creek enough to meet federal standards for so-called contact recreation is gaining urgency as a result of massive public and private spending underway or planned to control flooding, expand parkland and redevelop adjacent areas.

Because of chronically elevated levels of fecal bacteria, the water poses a potential health risk to people who might swallow some of it while swimming or wading in the creek, according to environmental authorities.

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