Every year, more than 340,000 people visit the Barton Springs swimming hole in Austin, Texas. Few swimmers realize they're taking a dip in the home of one of North America's most endangered species — the Barton Springs salamander. An entirely aquatic amphibian, this salamander is uniquely adapted to live in Barton Springs' warm, consistently flowing water. But if Austin can't curb the urban expansion that degrades the water quality of the springs, this tiny creature will swim with us no more.

Barton Springs is part of Texas' Edwards Aquifer region, which provides habitat for more than 50 species of animals and plants living nowhere else in the world — including the Barton Springs salamander. Since the Edwards Aquifer also provides much of San Antonio's water supply and about 50,000 people rely on Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer for their drinking water, the springs' cleanliness is a critical issue for both local salamanders and people living in Texas. But increasing development in the area has severely contaminated the aquifer, and salamanders bear the brunt of the damage. Sediment runoff from construction clogs their gills, smothers their eggs, reduces the availability of spawning sites, and lessens water circulation and oxygen.

Also of concern are pesticides, six of which have been known to contaminate Barton Springs — and which are likely causes of strange deformities and deaths recently seen in Barton Springs salamanders. In 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requested that the Environmental Protection Agency engage in consultations regarding pesticide impacts on the salamander — but the agency failed to do so. The Center, along with Austin environmental group Save Our Springs Alliance, sued in 2004, and in 2005, the EPA agreed to perform consultations regarding pesticide impacts for atrazine and five additional pesticides. The Center continues to monitor and oppose harmful chemical pesticide use through our Pesticides Reduction Campaign.

Photo by Wyman Meinzer/USGS