The new San Antonio River: changing a historical landscape


The San Antonio River Authority (SARA) is one of the many organizations in Texas that focuses on the protection, preservation and sustainability of the San Antonio River.
Since 1937, SARA has been active in maintaining San Antonio’s beautiful river and keeping it safe and enjoyable for everyone. The organization was created after severe floods in 1913 and 1914, when Texans realized it was a necessity to supervise and protect the river. SARA covers all of Bexar, Wilson, Karnes and Goliad counties.
A new initiative by the SARA, The San Antonio River Improvements Project (SARIP), aims to increase the natural habitats of the San Antonio River and to make the river even more enjoyable and appealing to San Antonio residents and tourists alike.
The project focuses on flood control and ecosystem restoration elements. The San Antonio River Improvements Project is improving nearly 13 miles of the San Antonio River, which includes the original River Walk.
The project will create 15 miles of continuous trails along the river so that San Antonio residents and tourists are able to enjoy hiking and bike rides. The goal is to create bike trails from Brackenridge Park to Mission Espada.
“One of the main goals of the restoration is to allow those eight miles south of downtown to be used for recreation where it is currently not being used,” says Chad Sundol, president of the Green Society at UTSA. “I see this as an opportunity for the area to grow through this effort.”
Although these trails are for biking and hiking, for safety reasons, biking will still be prohibited along the River Walk, more precisely, between Lexington Avenue and Nueva Street.
The project is transforming the San Antonio River into “a quality riparian woodland ecosystem,” according to the SARA website. Regarding the ecosystem, SARA is focusing on restoring the river’s natural features, including plants and its aquatic habitat. “It will allow added filtration of run-off to ensure a cleaner San Antonio river,” Sundol says.
The project is focusing precisely on restoring two types of habitats: riparian woodland and aquatic.
According to the Mission Reach’s website, the ecosystem restoration process will be accomplished over many years by construction on the river to reconfigure the channel and to create an improved aquatic habitat.
It will also re-establish hundreds of acres of native grasses and wildflowers while planting and cultivating native trees and shrubs. It will take approximately 50 years for the entire ecosystem restoration process to be completed.
The non-profit organization is dedicated to maintaining the river at its best. Therefore, this project would not have been possible if it were not for the help of the city of San Antonio.
The city contributed approximately $78.7 million for the life of the project. The money was derived from the city’s capital improvements fund for recreation elements.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has also contributed about $51.9 million to support the ecosystem restoration and recreation and another $2.6 million toward the construction on the southern edge of downtown San Antonio.
SARA is responsible for many operations and activities on the river, as well as for the improvements project.
The San Antonio River Improvements Project will benefit not only the river, but will also provide plenty of benefits for the city. The river will be more eco- friendly and preserved more naturally, making it cleaner and safer for the aquatic habitat.
Improving the river’s natural habitat will “manage the rain water runoff and filter some pollutants before getting to the river stream, and it will include native and drought tolerant landscaping,” says Juan Manuel Fernandez, owner of CVF homes, a company that builds houses using eco-friendly materials to save water and incorporate the latest technology in promoting indoor air quality. The river has always been clean, but with SARIP it will be cleaner and healthier for the ecosystem.
SARIP will also improve San Antonio’s tourism and economy. Most people distinguish San Antonio by its exquisite downtown area and its marvelous River Walk. With its natural plants and flowers, the river will be more inviting for tourists once the trails for biking and hiking are improved. “It will draw more attention to tourism and local residents and will position San Antonio as a more desirable destination,” Fernandez shares.
“It will give San Antonio an image of a leader in improving the quality of life of local residents and interest for tourism.”
In addition to that, it will improve San Antonio’s economy by generating employment for the construction and maintenance, as well as increased tourism once the project is fulfilled.
The San Antonio River Authority has partnered with UTSA to house its archive at the Special Collections section in the John Peace Library. UTSA proudly holds the archive in order to help commemorate the agency’s 75th anniversary and to make the archive materials more accessible for the public.
SARA’s archive includes photographs and documentation of past floods, reports, project materials, maps, newspaper clippings, SARA newsletters, magazines and brochures.
The archive also includes SARA’s oral history collection, made up of over 30 recordings by the authority board and staff, documenting their experience and knowledge about different topics regarding SARA. The archive is updated every six months.