Don’t expect to take a flying leap into Balmorhea Pool in West Texas anytime soon.
But after nearly three months of evaluation, crews are set to begin making repairs to pool walls and a concrete apron beneath the diving board, which collapsed during the annual cleaning and draining of the facility in May.
The 1.3-acre, V-shaped oasis, located about 400 miles west of Austin, draws locals and visitors heading to the Big Bend region. It’s also home to two small, endangered desert fish – the Pecos gambusia and the Comanche Springs pupfish.
Years of erosion caused by the flow of water from the springs caused the damage. Repairs are expected to take several months and cost $2 million. Crews will build cofferdams, temporarily remove the diving board, salvage existing brick around the pool edge, remove the failing wall and backfill behind it, then install new walls along the north and south sides of the pool.
Officials with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department say they are working to protect the endangered species during the project. They have created habitats outside of the pool for the protection of the fish and other invertebrates, and say they are working to protect the species while work takes place.
No heavy equipment will be used; crews will demolish and remove debris by hand. Cofferdams will allow water to flow through the canals and cienegas while work takes place, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff will monitor water quality and flow to prevent downstream contamination.
“Our plan is to reverse decades of erosive impacts and restore public access to this oasis as soon as possible,” Brent Leisure, director of Texas State Parks, said in a press release. “It’s regrettable that the timing of this issue has prevented Texans from cooling off in their favorite swimming hole for most of this hot summer, but visitors will find an improved park after badly needed improvements are made to the pool, the historic motor courts and the parks’ popular campground.”
The site has long attracted people. Native Americans, Spanish explorers and U.S. soldiers watered up at San Solomon Springs, which pumps out about 15.5 million gallons of water a day, long before the Civilian Conservation Corps turned the desert wetland into a pool in the 1930s. Private concessionaires operated the park until the 1960s, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took it over.
More than 153,000 people visited the park between Sept. 1, 2016, and Sept. 1, 2017. On hot summer weekends, the park fills to capacity by noon and cars are turned away.
The pool measures 25 feet deep in places, with a natural bottom. Swimming there feels like gliding through a giant aquarium populated by fish of all sizes. It holds 3.5 million gallons of water, and water temperatures hover between 72 and 76 degrees year-round.
The 45-acre desert park’s day use and picnic area will remain open while the pool is closed. The park’s retro, adobe-style 18-unit motor court closed early this year for renovations and should reopen in 2019.
To make a donation to help fund the repairs, go to http://www.tpwf.org/balmorhea/.