Texas Springs Go with the Flow August 2018

Come summer, people flock to the Comal River in New Braunfels like bees to honey. They are drawn to its clear water, shady banks, and gentle, meandering course that invites the incomparable pleasure of floating in an inner tube. What better way to spend a hot day than to lean back, glide downstream, and watch the clouds drift by?

Thousands of water lovers enjoy this Central Texas mecca each year, as well as many other swimming holes around the state that share one common feature—spring-fed water. Thanks to natural springs that emanate from the ground, Texas has some outstanding freshwater sites for swimming and recreation. At least 20 swimming sites around the state can boast of being spring fed. Among those are Las Moras Springs in Brackettville, Barton Springs in Austin, and San Solomon Springs at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas, all popular destinations.

Springs can be found all over Texas, but the four largest flow out of the Edwards Aquifer: Comal, San Marcos, San Felipe, and Barton springs.

How does a seemingly inconsequential spring become a river or a lake? At the Comal River, for instance, where does that soothing water come from? And where does it go after the inner tubes have been pulled onto dry land and swimsuits tossed into the trunk?

Springs are the result of an aquifer being filled to the point it overflows onto the land surface, and Comal Springs, the largest spring in Texas, directly feed the Comal River.

Texas is fortunate to have many aquifers—nine are classified as major and 22 as minor. These underground bodies of permeable rock can hold or transmit groundwater.

All aquifers contribute some groundwater to the baseflow of streams and rivers. In an average year, more than 9 million acre-feet of groundwater in Texas flows from aquifers to surface water. That's close to one-third of the average surface water flow. Of course, aquifer interactions with surface water will vary by season and region.

Groundwater makes its largest contributions to surface water in East Texas, the Hill Country, and portions of West Texas.

Comal Springs flow from the Edwards Aquifer, a large karst aquifer running through most of Central Texas. Water flowing from springs starts with natural recharge west of New Braunfels, extending as far as Uvalde. In New Braunfels, visitors can go to Landa Park in the city center and find the spot near a historical marker where the springs first bubble up from rock.

After a mile of flow, the springs form a river that traverses a mere 2.5 miles, providing tubers a refreshing ride part of the way. Then the Comal River joins the Guadalupe River, which is also spring fed, and starts a long trek through blackland prairie toward San Antonio Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, the river passes near ranchland, municipalities, and industries.

A different portion of the Edwards Aquifer supplies Las Moras Springs, located on the grounds of historic Fort Clark in Brackettville, west of San Antonio. The springs fill a swimming pool that is 300 feet long, which makes it one of the largest spring-fed pools in the state. A military fort was established along the creek in the 1850s and operated for almost a century. The property now is in private hands.

Barton Springs Pool in Austin is a popular site, especially for distance swimmers, due to its length—900 feet. Located in Zilker Park, the pool sits in a channel of Barton Creek. The creek begins southwest of Austin, flows over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, and reemerges at Barton Springs, which feeds the pool. From there, the springs join the Colorado River.

The granddaddy of spring-fed pools is located in the most unlikely of places—the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas. At Balmorhea State Park, south of Pecos, people have been swimming and diving for eight decades in a crystal clear pool situated in the middle of a desert. The San Solomon Springs, a collection of artesian springs, furnishes 20–28 million gallons a day to form what many regard as the world's largest spring-fed swimming pool, measuring an impressive 1.75 acres in size. Although closed for repairs this summer, the pool is scheduled to reopen next spring.

Spring-fed swimming pools or lakes are also found in other parts of the state; among them are Buffalo Springs Lake near Lubbock, Burger's Lake in Fort Worth, Spring Lake Park in Texarkana, and a 64-acre spring-fed lake at Tyler State Park. To learn more about these Texas gems, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter this month as we post pictures and information about our favorite swimming holes.

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