Witte’s River Habitat Project Receives County Funding

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Courtesy / Lake|Flato

The acequia located behind the Witte Museum.

The Witte Museum is one step closer to restoring a historic natural feature on its grounds. The museum will use $2.25 million pledged by Bexar County Tuesday to partially fund its riparian, or riverside, habitat project along the San Antonio River, which is located behind the facility.

The $8.2 million project will ultimately restore the 18th-century acequia – which was the main water source for the Alamo – and diversion dam in the area, remnants of which can still be seen today.

Locations of the acequia on the Witte Museum grounds.

Courtesy / Lake|Flato

Locations of the acequia on the Witte Museum grounds.

Marise McDermott, Witte president and CEO, told the Rivard Report that the restoration project is part of the natural history museum’s mission to showcase the natural history of Texas and San Antonio.

“The Witte is where nature, science, and culture meet,” she said. “It’s on the San Antonio River next to the headwaters, so it’s incumbent upon us to be a great steward to the river.”

In order to revert the area as closely as possible to its authentic form, McDermott said that the museum has taken out other unnatural additions to the waters such as drainage and landscaping elements.

“Part of our master planning is to recreate the natural riverside habitat so that the critters and creatures have enough plants to thrive,” she said. “We’re recreating the area much like the Mission Reach.”

Updates to the area, McDermott added, will include signage that will mark the location of the acequia as well as modern, sustainable water technology.

“The next thing that’s really important, that we’re doing with Lake/Flato, is creating a bioswale,” she said. A bioswale is a collection of design elements meant to capture and remove silt and pollutants from surface runoff water before it goes into the river.

“That’s a better way for water to go back into the river.”

With the County funds and the $1.2 million pledged by the San Antonio River Authority, the museum still has to raise another $4.7 million to complete the river project, which is part of the Witte’s larger, $100 million transformation plan for its campus. So far, the museum has raised $88 million.

The campus has seen a number of enhancements to its buildings and outdoor area over the past few months. In April the Witte opened the Mays Family Center, a $15 million event and education center that is a key part of the museum’s transformation effort.

McDermott said that the restoration of the Acequia Madre and the diversion dam shows the community that the Witte is conscious about history and sustainability.

“This is a signal to the community that this is a place for them that looks like San Antonio,” she said. “We like to say that this is the oldest water development project in Texas. It’s a bookend to the work that’s being done at Mission Espada.”

The riparian project also brings another unique opportunity for the Witte, McDermott said, by shedding light on various historical elements of San Antonio.

“It highlights the ancient artery of the San Antonio River and the historical artery of Broadway,” she said, referencing the Witte’s location at Broadway Street and Tuleta Drive.

One thought on “Witte’s River Habitat Project Receives County Funding

  1. From Lynn Osborne Bobbitt, executive director of the Brackenridge Park Conservancy:

    The times are very exciting with all that is happening in and near Brackenridge Park.

    Congratulations to the Witte! The Brackenridge Park Conservancy hopes to expand the interpretation of the Spanish Colonial water delivery system. The recommended allocation in the the 2017 Parks Bond could be used to restore the 1776-1778 Spanish Colonial Upper Labor Dam and Acequia. This was the last system built by the Spaniards, and it is intact in the northern section of the Park. Unlike the Acequia Madre system on the Witte property, which served the Mission San Antonio de Valero, the Upper Labor Acequia and diversion dam were built to serve the citizens of the Villa of San Fernando, the civil settlement that was founded by the 16 families from the Canary Islands sent by the King of Spain in 1731. The population had increased by 1776 to the extent that there was a need for additional water for agriculture, grazing and household use.

    The Conservancy strongly supports the 2017 Park Bond funding which will make the restoration possible. The Conservancy looks forward to playing a role, along with the Witte and the City, to interpret the history of water and these important historical resources. Also, the Conservancy has submitted a request to designate the Upper Labor Dam and Acequia as a Tricentennial Project.

    In addition, there will be an opportunity to restore the 1877 Municipal Water Works Pump House #1 and raceway–the oldest extant industrial building in San Antonio. Did you know? The Water Works in Brackenridge Park pumped water to a reservoir that was located on the current Botanical Gardens property.

    So, you see there is quite a story to tell! Tours are available. Please contact me to schedule a tour at lynn@brackenridgepark.org.

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