Austin is a city that prides itself on being so hip, progressive and tree-loving that its location in the heart of Texas is a mere geographical mishap. And nothing in Austin inspires such pride as Barton Springs Pool, a gorgeous, gargantuan, spring-fed basin that attracts thousands of locals and visitors year-round for refreshing plunges.

So it was a devastating blow when the Austin American-Statesman revealed last week that the level of toxic chemicals in the spring's crystalline waters makes Barton Springs about as safe for swimming as a Superfund site. Or, as the newspaper indelicately put it: The pool has more toxins than "a dozen of the worst hazardous waste sites in the country."

Residents of Austin were appalled. Some likened it to Washingtonians discovering that the Mall has been seeded with anti-personnel mines all these years.

City authorities immediately closed the pool, depriving thousands of their daily dip. Gates will be locked for at least 90 days pending further environmental testing.

Meanwhile, City Manager Toby Futrell disputed the newspaper's account, saying reporters had taken scientific data out of context. "I would swim in the pool today, if it were not so cold," she told the newspaper.

-- Lee Hockstader

Austin city employee Virginia Rohlich collects sediment samples to test for pollution in Barton Springs Pool.