Austin Cave Festival tackles rising water worries

Anna-Kay Reeves

From the boil-water notice in the fall to recent smelly tap water allegedly caused by zebra mussels, Austin has been up to its neck in water worries this past year.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center will host the Austin Cave Festival on Feb. 23 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event allows attendees to explore the La Crosse Cave and Wildflower Cave on the site and focus on learning about Austin’s ecology and natural resources as well as how to conserve them.

Tanya Zastrow, director of programs at The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, said this is the second year the Wildflower Center has hosted the event. The Center hopes to make the event educational as well as enjoyable, featuring live music and food vendors in addition to educational demonstrations.

“Our goal is for our guests to learn about cave ecology and the importance of a healthy cave ecosystem,” Zastrow said. “We also would like our guests to learn how caves, watersheds and the landscapes above the caves are all tied together.”

The Wildflower Center teamed up with the City of Austin, The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and other local conservation associations to present the event, Zastrow said. The associations are joining forces in the hopes that people will better understand how caves play a role in healthy water ecosystems and what people can do to protect and enjoy Austin’s landscape, Zastrow said.

Redmond Tuttle, co-owner of The Austin Pedal Barge, knows firsthand how important protecting water sources is in order to enjoy them. Having worked in water transportation services in Wisconsin before moving to Texas, Tuttle said zebra mussels are a prime example of why it’s important to protect water resources.

“Zebra mussels take over lake ecosystems by eating all the food the fish would normally be consuming,” Tuttle said. “The water becomes really clear because they wipe out the other lake life.”

Tuttle said it’s important for people to be aware of the threat zebra mussels pose to lake ecology in order to stop them spreading further.

“They’re an invasive species, so they thrive where they get a foothold,” Tuttle said. “People need to know about that so they’ll take cleaning their boats seriously and their spread will be slowed.”

For Savanna Smith, civil engineering senior and president of Engineers for a Sustainable World, education about water sources in the area is incredibly important to sustainability.

“It’s important for the public to know about preserving water resources because so many times we don’t consider where our water is coming from at all,” Smith said. “We tend to view water as a limitless resource when this isn’t actually true.”

According to Smith, there are many opportunities on campus to learn more about sustainability from Engineers for a Sustainable World to the Beevo Beekeeping Society and Campus Environmental Center.

The Austin Cave Festival provides the opportunity to learn about conserving water resources firsthand as well as get into the nitty-gritty of exploring the area’s ecosystems with cave tours, according to their website. Admission to the event is free.