Austin, Texas. February 15th, 2011.

From the playground to the duck-filled pond, it’s the park Sharon Coudert visits almost every day.
“Lately it’s been dry as a bone,” explained Coudert. “I mean, you could probably walk across it two weeks ago.”

Then came the heavy rains of late January, bringing plenty of water and a not-so-little something extra to the Shops at the Arbor off Mopac and William Cannon.

“After that big rain storm we had a week or two ago “it” started slowly,” said Coudert. “A small one, and then it just kept growing.”

A little hole soon turned into a sinkhole nearly 20 feet deep — more than big enough to swallow a few cars.

“You just unplugged the bathtub, so water drained down into the aquifer,” explained environmental scientist David Johns with Austin’s Watershed Protection Department.

Johns says since the hole opened up Jan. 25, several million gallons poured in — mostly water runoff from nearby parking lots. Retention ponds that once helped purify runoff now sit halfway full.

“I think it does highlight the sensitivity of that area for development, for buildings, ponds, roads, things of that nature,” added Johns.

Even more sensitive is its location. The shopping center sinkhole sits over the delicate Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. To track the water’s path, scientists have conducted dye tests to watch where it flows and discover what springs could be affected.

“We do want to get it fixed,” said Johns. “It is something that could be a chronic problem for sure, an acute problem, if there’s some hazardous material that washes into it.”

Engineers with Christopher Communications Inc., the company that owns the land, says water is being diverted from the hole to nearby ponds.

Scientists expect the results from those dye tests should be complete in a couple weeks. That information can also be used in the future to help handle potentially dangerous spills.

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