A local, state, and federal initiative will soon bring in federal funding to revitalize urban waters and surrounding communities, giving a financial and administrative leg-up to existing and future local water projects.
The San Antonio area was designated an Urban Waters location, part of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, in October 2014. The first stakeholder and government representative meetings will take place this Thursday, Jan. 22. During an all-day workshop, representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the City of San Antonio, the San Antonio River Authority (SARA), and more will discuss how to effectively use this designation to the advantage of all citizens. The same evening, the community is invited to a public stakeholder meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. to hear from government representatives and to provide input. Both meetings will take place at Christopher Columbus Hall at 201 Piazza Italia. Register to attend here.
“Along with our partners, the City of San Antonio recognizes that our creeks and streams can be the X factor in promoting public health, attracting economic development, and improving environmental quality,” stated Mayor Ivy Taylor in a news release announcing the designation. “The River Walk and River Improvements Project have distinguished our city from any other, and the Urban Waters Partnership will allow us to build on our internationally recognized successes.”
The Urban Waters Partnership connects projects to funding in a variety of different ways, but mainly by coordinating between different federal agencies and local revitalization efforts. The partnership’s specialty is underserved, economically burdened communities, and it has aligned itself with President Barack Obama’s Great Outdoors initiative. Overall, it’s not just about ecological health, but ensuring “safe, healthy, and accessible outdoor spaces” for citizens to be active.
Several local projects have been identified in San Antonio for the Urban Waters program so far, and the obstacles/benefits of each will be discussed at the meetings:
- San Antonio Water System’s brackish groundwater desalination plant aims to diversify water supply and relieve some of the ecological strain put on the Edwards Aquifer, which remains the primary source of water for more than 2 million people in the region. The plant will cost an estimated $441.4 million and is expected to produce 12 million gallons of water per day from the Wilcox Aquifer starting sometime in 2016.
- The San Pedro Creek Improvements Project and the wide network of Westside Creeks seeking restoration connect San Antonio’s west, central, and south sides and ultimately to the San Antonio River and Spanish Missions. Hike and bike trails are planned for the creeks, but the Urban Waters designation makes the possibility of more space for recreation possible. Designs for the San Pedro Creek project are currently being reviewed by project engineers, city staff, and the public in a series of meetings and are expected to be completed in 2018 – just in time for San Antonio’s 300th birthday.
- A three-mile segment of the Olmos Creek and Basin have water quality and flood control problems that restoration project hopes to fix. Trash enters the creek, which consistently floods Highway 281 and the surrounding area. Adding to its water quality problem, the San Antonio Zoo remains one of the highest sources of pollution in the San Antonio River. But since a $3 million ultraviolet treatment plant was installed, bacterial levels have comparatively come down.
- The Salado Creek Greenway trail system connects the city’s Eastside neighborhoods in and around Eastpoint – the branding given to the Eastside Promise Zone and Promise/Choice Neighborhoods – yet the trail system remains disconnected from central and Westside creeks and trails. The City of San Antonio and Bexar County have committed funds to improve drainage, reduce the 100-year flood zone, and provide park and trail improvements around Menger Creek.
- San Antonio has long pined for a World Heritage Site designation for its five, 18th century Spanish colonial Missions. According to the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau, “By 2025, the World Heritage Site economic impact on San Antonio and Bexar County is expected to generate $44-105 million in additional economic activity and 465-1,098 extra jobs. The five San Antonio Missions are expected to support $397 million in economic activity in 2025 regardless of World Heritage status.”
The meetings will also determine which, if any, other project should be on this Urban Waters list.
*Featured/top image: B-cycling on the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River. Photo by Tom Trevino.