My River POV: Jose G. Fernandez

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The “My River POV” series provides readers the opportunity to learn about the unique insight and experiences of the San Antonio River Authority (River Authority) staff and their connection to the San Antonio River in hopes of inspiring stewardship of area creeks and rivers.

Jose Fernandez

Jose G. Fernandez, CFM Project Management Associate

What are your earliest memories of the San Antonio River?

I am born and raised here in San Antonio. As a kid, I remember going to Brackenridge Park with my family, watching the ducks and enjoying the outdoors and the sounds of the river. When I was looking for a job as a teenager, I saw an ad for the River Authority and thought how cool it would be to drive one of the river barges downtown! As I soon found out, our agency is not in charge of the river barge tours. I then realized that the River Authority provides many opportunities that help maintain the health and beauty of the San Antonio River we love. Who knows—maybe one day I can have an opportunity to drive the river barge!

Let’s fast forward to the present day. How does your team contribute to the work of the River Authority?

Most of us are aware of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and their Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) they produce. These maps show the 1% or the 100-year annual chance people have of their property flooding during any given year when storm events occur in the United States. FIRM updates within local, county and/or regional maps can take years to get updated, since FEMA does not have a set timetable. In the meantime, there are still changes happening every day to areas within or near a floodplain. For example, changes could be a capital improvement project, or a developer coming in and wanting to build a subdivision of homes or a business. These are developments that are changing floodplain areas within a FIRM map(s). To capture these floodplain changes, FEMA produces revision documents called Letters of Map Revisions (LOMR). These determination documents officially revise current FIRM map(s) to reflect the changes to floodplains on the FIRM. This is done to keep residents informed of the floodplain modifications and to help them recognize areas most susceptible to flooding.

Where does your team fit into this process?

FEMA partners across the nation with other organizations, communities, and private sectors; these partners are known as Cooperating Technical Partners (CTPs). Selected CTPs ask to be a FEMA LOMR Partner who do reviews on behalf of FEMA. The River Authority is a FEMA LOMR Review partner and reviews LOMRs for our 4-county jurisdiction of Bexar, Wilson, Karnes and Goliad counties. These reviews are done locally by a team of engineers who are familiar with our local watersheds, local and FEMA rules and regulations, the type of flooding that occurs within our four counties, and the communities that inhabit them. In turn, we maintain the FEMA FIRM maps up to date and making sure the information is reaching the residents and community officials within our area.

A man speaks with two women at a public meeting

Joe talks with community members about flood risks at a Draft Floodplain Open House in 2023.

Before this program came into play 14 years ago, FEMA hired private contractors to do the LOMR reviews where it could take months to get the requests approved by FEMA. Since the River Authority became a LOMR Review Partner, our Engineering Team has reduced that turnaround time to between five and six months. Professionals in the field are aware of the award-winning work we have done. In fact, we are the first FEMA CTP that won the first award from FEMA for our CTP work. Last month, we celebrated our 400th case review in 12 years, which is a great accomplishment demonstrating the work that we do every day.

You also won an award personally recently?

Yes, this award was from the Texas Floodplain Management Association (TFMA) which is a big organization that recognizes Certified Floodplain Managers (CFMs). I’ve been part of the TFMA since 2008 and have served as regional director, vice-president, president, and past president. This past spring, I was awarded the Roy D. Sedwick Service Award. This award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated long-term leadership to the association and made significant contributions that have clearly influenced and advanced the association.

Jose Fernandez receives award

What’s next for the program?

We are expanding our LOMR review coverage, adding more counties from the San Antonio Watershed Basin itself—into counties like Bandera, Comal, Kendall, Medina, and Guadalupe. I’m helping to start the initiative on this expansion and have received FEMA’s blessing. FEMA has expressed that we would be the first LOMR Review Partner wanting to expand our LOMR Review Area. It speaks to what our agency is accomplishing out in the community.

Why do you enjoy working for the River Authority?

I’ve been here for over 17 years now and I love coming to work every day. What keeps me coming back is the positive environment the River Authority provides; it’s like coming in and working with your family and friends. There’s never a week that I can say I have not learned something new. I hope to continue as long as the River Authority will allow me to! In my office, I have a couple of water feature fountains and it’s so relaxing to hear running water. Even though I don’t have the river going through my cubicle itself, it gives me that connection to the San Antonio River and the work we are doing.

A group of people sit to listen to a presentation

Joe recently taught a bilingual course on Floodplain Management for prospective CFMs in Puerto Rico.

What would you like people to know about the River Authority?

Connect and reach out to us! When you talk to us, we are as here to provide you with openness and understanding. We strive to help you to the best of our abilities and to provide you with the help and answers you seek. We will help in understanding your frustrations and concerns when it comes to flooding and help keep everyone safe. Each person’s safety is very important to me and everyone at the River Authority; we want you to know we are here to help.

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Alerts

Acequia Trail Notice

The Acequia trail will have heavy traffic near MROC starting May 22nd until further notice. The SAWS Acequia project will be bringing in crews to work on the lift station site and across the street. There will have flaggers to stop traffic, please use caution. 

SASPAMCO Paddling Trail

The SASPAMCO paddling trail is open from River Crossing Park to Helton Nature Park.
*Please Note: Paddling Trail from Helton Nature Park to HWY 97 is still closed due to blockages. 

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