The San Antonio River Basin is made up of a complex arrangement of creeks and rivers and their corresponding watersheds. The San Antonio River Authority (River Authority) developed the San Antonio River Basin Report Card in 2020 from the agency’s drive to harmonize the needs of people and nature through our stewardship of rivers and land. The main purpose of the San Antonio River Basin Report Card is to shine a light on the healthy and the unhealthy aspects of the basin to educate the public and serve as a catalyst for community discussions that lead to individual choices and public policy decisions, actions, and investments that support a sustainable San Antonio River Basin.
The 2021 San Antonio River Basin Report Card was released in September to correspond with World Rivers Day, which is the last Sunday in September. The overall grade for the 2021 San Antonio River Basin Report Card is a “B,” which is the same as it was last year. This grade is the average of twelve individual indicator grades. With each annual basin report card, the grades for the indicators will show trends clearly demonstrating where progress is being made and where improvements are still needed. Each month, we will be highlighting a specific indicator and its grade to help provide insight and to share how you can help by joining us in our efforts towards improving the health of area creeks and rivers.
Basin Report Card 2021 Highlights – Public Trash
Trash on the San Antonio River Walk Mission Reach following a rain event.
Improving the health of creeks and rivers is one the main goals of the River Authority. Since the 1960s, the River Authority’s scientific leadership and targeted efforts have resulted in reducing pollution and trash in area waterways and improving water quality throughout the basin.
Trash left on the ground miles away from a creek or river can and does end up in area waterways when it rains. Untreated rainwater that goes into storm drains and directly to area creeks and rivers is known as stormwater runoff. The pollutants picked up by stormwater include, but are not limited to, oil, fertilizers, bacteria, heavy metals, gasoline, sediment, trash, and floatables, which is litter that floats on the surface of the water. Trash and floatables are unsightly and require extensive costs in hard dollars and labor by the River Authority, other local government agencies, and community volunteers to remove by hand. They also have adverse impacts on aquatic and riparian habitats and impede recreational use of local parks and waterways.
For the 2021 San Antonio River Basin Report Card, the grade for public trash was an “F” – this is the second year in a row that this river health indicator scored a “failing” grade. In developing and reporting this metric, the River Authority is grading the amount of public trash found on the ground along the San Antonio River Walk – Mission Reach following rain events. The River Authority picks this trash up within 14 days of the rain event. It is important to note, this is not a grade about how well the River Authority is at gathering the trash along the Mission Reach; this is a grade scoring the public for how much trash the River Authority has to pick up!
For this year’s grade, the score is calculated by using an average of the pounds of trash collected by the River Authority along the 9-mile stretch of the Mission Reach over the past 4 years as a base line. For this year’s basin report card grade, the data for the 4-year average comes from fiscal years 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2019-20. (Note: The River Authority Fiscal Year runs from July 1 to June 30.) The total trash collected during Fiscal Year 2020-21 (July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021) is subtracted from the base line, then divided by the base line, and multiplied by 100 to develop a score that determines an A through F grade.
Essentially, the grade is a trend analysis with the basic assumption being that lowering the amount of public trashed washed into the Mission Reach during rain events is positive (i.e. will get a higher grade) and increasing public trash washed into the park during rain events is negative (i.e. will get a lower grade). The amount of public trash deposited and cleaned-up from the Mission Reach on an annual basis reflects how well the community properly disposes of trash. We are using this grade as a surrogate to demonstrate the larger community problem of public trash that can be found throughout the San Antonio River Basin, particularly in urbanized areas. The 2021 San Antonio River Basin Report Card grade for this public trash metric showed a slight increase in the score this Fiscal Year as compared to the 2020 grade. However, the positive change was not enough to raise the grade above an F.
How can I get involved?
To proactively address the threats to creeks and rivers from trash, floatables, and illegal dumping throughout the San Antonio River Basin, the River Authority has recently launched a new public outreach initiative related to trash. The River Authority intends to use this new initiative to educate the communities throughout the basin and encourage citizens to take a pledge to help keep area creeks and rivers clean by not littering and picking up trash when they see it on the ground, whether in their neighborhood or at area parks and parking lots. The public can visit the River Authority’s trash initiative webpage to take our “Don’t Let Litter Trash Your River” pledge, learn how to get engaged by using the Litterati app, help support the initiative by using the social media tool kit, and obtain resources for individuals and community organizations who would like to become a River Warrior volunteer or organize cleanup events to help with our efforts.
Together, we can achieve and maintain good grades in the annual San Antonio River Basin Report Card by focusing our collective community attention on improving areas that are scoring low. We invite you to view the full report card and learn more about the indicators, including what you can do to help next year’s grade improve!