On the August 7 2022, more than 1500 Punekars made their way to the Hills of the city and came together to protect “Tekdi” from multiple shortsighted developmental pressures. Hills of Pune are the last bastions for urban wild spaces and are also the watersheds for several streams flowing in the city, now bundled under the misnomer of Nallas or drains.
Around the same time, citizens in Chennai were coming together for the health of Ennore Creek. Citizen groups across the country have been working for years for rivers, streams and wetlands in Delhi, Pune, Nashik, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Baroda, Thrissur. The list is growing strong. Many of the groups are disillusioned as victories are few and far between. But changes have happened. They may be through petitions fought for Pune’s Rivers or against privatization of wetlands in Bangalore or for the health of Yamuna floodplains in Delhi or pollution of the Ennore Creek. These small successes need to be celebrated and communicated as they inspire weary activists and citizens and add to the strength of citizen movements. Indeed, citizen movements and their spectacular persistence are the only things that have shaped environmental governance the world over.
These thoughts came to mind as I witnessed the 30th Anniversary celebrations of the “SOS (Save our Springs) Ordinance” in Austin, Texas.
Thirty years back, on August 8 1992 Austin voters approved the SOS ordinance in “a landslide” win. SOS Ordinance was an amendment to the Austin City Code of 1992 which holds good till date and includes some stringent norms against encroachment, exploitation and pollution of the beloved Barton Springs and Barton Creek, which flow through the heart of Austin to meet Texas Colorado.
SOS Ordinance was passed after the historic All-Night City Hall Protest in 1990 where over 1000 citizens showed up at Austin City Hall to protest the “Barton Creek PUD,” a 4,000 acre development proposed for the banks of Barton Creek by Freeport McMoRan, a global mining company that was the single largest discharger of toxic pollutants into the waters of the United States. Austin citizens from all walks of life took their allotted 3 minutes to tell the city council to vote “no” on the massive development proposal. After taking testimony throughout the night, the City Council voted unanimously the next morning to deny the development approval. The event triggered Austin’s “Save Our Springs” movement followed by the passing of the SOS Ordinance in 1992. (https://www.sosalliance.org/30th-anniversary.html)
The celebrations to mark the 30th Anniversary of the passing of the SOS Ordinance were held on the banks of the the Barton Creek, at Barton Springs. There was live music by the amazing Otter Space Band, Minor Mishap Marching Band and several short and passionate speeches from citizens who were a part of the City Hall Meeting and the movement. The erstwhile Mayor was also present. The common note in all the messages was not to forget what happened and what can happen. Protecting natural resources is a never ending activity. But one full of joy, meaning and camaraderie. The celebrations were organized by Save Our Springs Alliance which sprung from the movement.
I only hope and wish that we should be fortunate enough to hold such celebrations along our rivers, be it Mula, Mutha, Godavari, Yamuna, Cooum, Kaveri, Chalakudy, Jhelum or Ganga.
The song played at “Save our Hills Yellow Ribbon Campaign” in Pune was “हम होंगे कामयाब एक दिन, मन में है विश्वास, पुरा है विश्वास, हम होंगे कामयाब एक दिन.”
With persistence, hope and best intentions, that will indeed happen. As Bill Bunch, Executive Director of SOS said, quoting Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The ordinance states: “Sec. 13-7-36.3 DECLARATION OF INTENT
The people of the City of Austin declare their intent to preserve a clean and safe drinking water supply, to prevent further degradation of the water quality in Barton Creek, Barton Springs, and Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer, to provide for fair, consistent, and cost-effective administration of the City’s watershed protection ordinances, and to promote the public health, safety, and welfare. The City of Austin recognizes that the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer is more vulnerable to pollution from urban development than any other major groundwater supply in Texas, and that the measures set out in this ordinance are necessary to protect this irreplaceable natural resource.”
Sec. 13-7-36.4 POLLUTION PREVENTION REQUIRED
(a) In the watersheds contributing to Barton Springs, no development nor any revision, extension, or amendment thereof, may be approved unless it is designed, carried out, and maintained on a site-by-site basis to meet the pollution prevention requirements set forth below for the life of the project. In order to prevent pollution, impervious cover for all such development shall be limited to a maximum of fifteen (15) percent in the entire recharge zone, twenty (20) percent of the contributing zone within the Barton Creek watershed, and twenty-five (25) percent in the remainder of the contributing zone. The impervious cover limits shall be calculated on a net site area basis. In addition, runoff from such development shall be managed through water quality controls and onsite pollution prevention and assimilation techniques so that no increases occur in the respective average annual loadings of total suspended solids, total phosphorus, total nitrogen, chemical oxygen demand, biochemical oxygen demand, total lead, cadmium, fecal coliform, fecal streptococci, volatile organic compounds, total organic carbon, pesticides, and herbicides from the site.
(b) Within the watersheds contributing to Barton Springs, Section 13-7-23 of the Land Development Code is amended so that in no event shall the boundary of the critical water quality zone be less than 200 feet from the centerline of a major waterway or be less than 400 feet from the centerline of the main channel of Barton Creek. No pollution control structure, or residential or commercial building, may be constructed in the critical water quality zone in these watersheds.”
Sec. 13-7-36.5 NO EXEMPTIONS, SPECIAL EXCEPTIONS, WAIVERS OR VARIANCES
The requirements of this ordinance are not subject to the exemptions, special exceptions, waivers, or variances allowed by Article V of Chapter 13-2 of the Land Development Code.”