About the San Antonio River Basin Report Card
Creeks and rivers are ever-changing dynamic systems. They change moment to moment and can have various characteristics, each distinct from the next. To further complicate the matter, the San Antonio River Basin is made up of a complex arrangement of creeks and rivers and their corresponding watersheds. How then does one go about defining what is “healthy” and what are the thresholds to determine how much stress these complex systems can take before they are deemed too “unhealthy” – that is the challenge in coming up with a viable and meaningful river basin report card.
The development of the San Antonio River Basin Report Card grew from the San Antonio River Authority’s (River Authority) drive to harmonize the needs of people and nature through our stewardship of rivers and land. The River Authority first researched the topic of river basin report cards to learn from best management practices from around the world. The Practitioner’s Guide to Developing River Basin Report Cards was also a valuable resource. For additional guidance in the development of this river basin report card, the River Authority also turned to our own mission statement, which states that we are committed to safe, clean, enjoyable creeks and rivers. 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 in order 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. Ultimately, we intend this basin report card to inspire others to implement positive changes in their behavior that will result in improvements to the health of the San Antonio River Basin.
The overall grade for the 2021 San Antonio River Basin Report Card is B, which is the same as it was last year. This grade is the average of twelve individual indicator grades. The overall score for this year is 1-point higher than last year; however, the slight increase in score is not enough to raise the grade.
The San Antonio River Basin
The San Antonio River Basin is one of 23 major basins in the State of Texas. It carries surface water from 2,500-foot elevations within the Texas Hill Country to less than 50-foot elevations near the Gulf Coast. It drains nearly 4,200 square miles, including parts of Atascosa, Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Dewitt, Goliad, Guadalupe, Karnes, Kendall, Kerr, Medina, Refugio, Victoria, and Wilson counties. To learn more about the San Antonio River Basin, please click here. You can take a virtual tour of the San Antonio River Basin here.
The expert engineers, scientists, technical, and specialized staff of the River Authority exercised their best professional judgment to determine the most meaningful list of indicators for this river basin report card. To help tell the very diverse and complicated story of the San Antonio River Basin in a simple, easy-to-understand way, the River Authority selected twelve indicators that were based on observations of basin health and comprised of accessible and defensible data which could be easily explained to the laymen public. The primary driver for the selection of the twelve indicators was to tell a clear and meaningful story about the health of the San Antonio River Basin. Where feasible, indicators use standards or guidelines established by State or Federal regulatory agencies, such as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency. The River Authority’s mission of being committed to safe, clean, enjoyable creeks and rivers was also a driver in the indicator selection process.
The explanation for each indicator will provide the rationale for how the indicator is being scored and identify which aspect of the River Authority’s safe, clean, and enjoyable mission is most related to the indicator. Some of the indicators used in the basin report card may clearly relate to more than one of the River Authority’s mission drivers of safe, clean, and enjoyable, and that will also be identified in the explanation write-up.
The “Safe” aspect of the River Authority’s mission is largely related to flood risk management. Public safety through flood risk management is a top priority for the River Authority. For nearly 85 years, cities and counties in the River Authority’s District, as well as the Federal government, have relied on our engineering and technical expertise in flood management and risk reduction. The basin report card indicators that most relate to the “Safe” aspect of the River Authority’s mission are Flood Insurance Coverage, Emergency Calls Regarding Flooding, and Stream Restoration Projects.
The “Clean” aspect of the River Authority’s mission is largely related to the various components that help define the health of the land, creeks, rivers, and bays and estuaries that comprise the San Antonio River Basin. Improving the health of creeks and rivers is the River Authority’s purpose. Since the 1960s, the River Authority’s scientific expertise has generated lasting and recognized improvements in the health of the San Antonio River and its tributaries by leading efforts to protect and enhance water quality and preserve and restore natural habitats and aquatic ecosystems. The basin report card indicators that most relate to the “Clean” aspect of the River Authority’s mission are Swimming Standard, Paddling Standard, Index of Biotic Integrity, Habitat Quality Index, Stormwater Managed, and Instream Flows.
The “Enjoyable” aspect of the River Authority’s mission is largely related to the River Authority’s support of nature-based outdoor recreation. The quality of life and health of citizens who live in the River Authority’s District can be improved through having recreational access along creeks and rivers. Over the past decade, the River Authority has added nature-based recreational activities throughout the basin. With more access, people can develop a greater appreciation for the natural resources and quality of life benefits provided by the San Antonio River and its tributaries. This will, in turn, promote increased preservation and conservation of these resources by individuals, businesses, and government. The basin report card indicators that most relate to the “Enjoyable” aspect of the River Authority’s mission are Public Trash and Park Usage.
The “Indicators and Grades” section of the 2021 San Antonio River Basin Report Card will provide a summary of each indicator including why each indicator is important to the health of the San Antonio River Basin and how it is being measured. In addition to the summary, an explanation of the grade will also be given for each indicator along with key findings and recommended actions that could be implemented to improve the grade, including specific examples of ways individual citizens may help improve the health of the river basin. Many of the indicators are grading data gathered during the River Authority’s Fiscal Year 2021, which ran from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. However, some indicators may grade a larger set of data covering multiple years. The write-up for each indicator will clearly state the period being measured and will include links to sources of data and other valuable information. Please also note the term metric and indicator are used interchangeably in the basin report card.
As previously mentioned, it is a difficult task to come up with indicators for a river basin report card. While River Authority staff exercised their best professional judgment to determine the most meaningful list of indicators for this river basin report card, we acknowledge that data can often be interpreted in different ways. Therefore, we will include in the indicator write-ups any potential shortfalls that we recognized in the development of the metrics. We believe it is appropriate to openly acknowledging potential challenges in the interpretation of data. This transparency may lead to future public discussions about the metrics and possibly to improvements in the basin report card methodology. This, in our opinion, will only serve to make the San Antonio River Basin Report Card even more viable and meaningful.
Finally, it is important to note, while the work of the River Authority can and does influence some of the indicators in this river basin report card, this report card is not intended to “grade” the River Authority. The River Authority has a set of metrics related directly to its annual strategic plan to determine how progress is being made on the projects and efforts funded in its annual budget. The River Authority’s annual budget, which contains its strategic plan, can be seen here.
The 12 metrics being graded in the San Antonio River Basin Report Card include a diverse set of measurements with each scoring a different type of unit. Results of each metric are standardized against a common scale of 0-100 to overcome difficulties associated with comparing indicators with different measurement scales and units. Sometimes this conversion is straight-forward; sometimes it can be challenging. An effort has been made in the write-up information for each metric to clearly explain where the data is coming from and how that data is being used to calculate a standardized 0-100 grade.
For this river basin report card, the standard one-hundred-point scale is divided into five equal parts where an “A” equates to 100-80 (Excellent); B is 79.9-60 (Good); C is 59.9-40 (Moderate); D is 39.9-20 (Poor); and an F is 19.9-0 (Failing). The reason for the broader spread in scores is that this scale is more sensitive to, and reflective of, changes in river basin conditions. The larger spread in scores also allows for an easier way to include a plus and minus scale where the upper 5 points of the 20-point range is a plus score and the lower 5 points of the 20-point range is a minus score. The “F” score, however, does not have a plus or minus.
The dashboard for this basin report card will simply show the standard letter grade, including + or – where applicable. The letter grade and the numeric score will both be provided in the write-up information for each individual metric.
Some of the indicators in this basin report card are essentially a trend analysis scoring Fiscal Year 2020-21 (July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021) data against an average of up to five fiscal years of previous data. It is possible for these trend analysis metrics to have a final numeric score above 100 or below 0. The write-ups for these indicators will clearly identify them as a trend analysis and remind readers of the potential for scores to be above or below the standard 0- to 100-point scale. If a final score is above 100, the grade will be shown as an “A+” on the report card dashboard, and a final score below 0 will be shown as a “F” grade on the dashboard. The final numeric score of all twelve indicators will be averaged to produce the overall basin grade.
The 2021 San Antonio River Basin Report Card is being issued in September to correspond with World Rivers Day, which is the last Sunday in September. With each annual basin report card, the grades for the indicators will show trends that will be highlighted over time. Together, we can achieve and maintain good grades and focus our collective community attention on improving areas that are scoring low.
Additional Noteworthy Information
It is a complicated task coming up with a river basin report card. The challenge is determining the metrics that have viable data, are simple to explain, and are repeatable year after year in order to show trends. Then there are the important issues that need to be included but have not been measured for one reason or another – or maybe they are one-off occurrences that are significant enough to mention. There certainly were some important issues that unfolded during our Fiscal Year 2020-21 (i.e. July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021). For that reason, we added this final section to the San Antonio River Basin Report Card to capture the top noteworthy bits of information that we did not apply a grade to, but nevertheless, believe are important to mention.
New General Manager
While the global pandemic brought about by the COVID-19 virus remained a significant story of the 2020-21 Fiscal Year, another important story took place at the River Authority. Suzanne Scott, the River Authority’s long-time general manager retired in October 2020. Suzanne gave final reflections of a public servant and her time at the River Authority prior to her last day.
The River Authority’s Board of Directors undertook a national search for a new general manager and appointed Derek Boese in March 2021. You can learn more about Derek by reading his first blog as the River Authority’s new general manager.
Wastewater Treatment Plant Expansions
Wastewater utilities provide an incredibly important service to communities that often goes under-appreciated. Simply put, the average citizen has come to expect and rely on good wastewater treatment services without having to put much thought into its value. Wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) not only provide a vital health related service to the community, by treating wastewater to a high-quality effluent, WWTPs also provide a significant water quality and water quantity service to area creeks and rivers.
The River Authority Utilities owns, operates, and maintains several WWTPs and collection systems. The operators and staff continuously attend related accredited sewer and water courses to improve their job performance and maintain or upgrade their state certification status. The plants' operators are certified by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
Given the significance of WWTPs, we felt it necessary to include in this year’s basin report card information about two WWTP expansions. Plans began last year for the expansion of the Salitrillo WWTP to 7.33 MGD to accommodate expected development in the area. This will be a progressive design build project and is anticipated to be complete in 2022. The estimated project cost will be $25 million. Planning has also begun on the expansion of the Martinez IV WWTP, which was first opened in April 2019. Due to the unexpected rapidly developing service area, this WWTP is already near its capacity and needs an expansion to 1.5 to 2.0 MGD. The design is projected to be completed in 2022 at a total cost of $10 million.
In addition to the WWTP expansions, during this past fiscal year, the River Authority announced on August 17, 2020 that a Utilities Development Advisory Committee (UDAC) was created with the goal to promote sustainable development within the agency’s water and wastewater service areas.
2020 Hurricane Season
Management of Invasive Species
River Authority staff are constantly on the lookout for non-native invasive species and will take appropriate actions to help control their spread. For example, when the San Antonio River Walk is drained for maintenance – which happens every few years – River Authority staff typically find and remove two non-native invasive fish species: Plecostomus and tilapia. The Plecostomus is a suckermouth catfish, which is a tropical fish from the armored catfish family. Tilapia is a fish native to Africa and is part of the cichlid family. These two non-native invasive fish species have long been a nuisance in the River Walk and other sections of the San Antonio River.
Unfortunately, a new non-native invasive species, the Apple Snail, was discovered in the River Walk in October 2019. A native of South America, these snails can grow to 6 inches and their presence is often indicated by the bright pink egg sacks that can contain thousands of individual eggs. Apple Snails continue to be a threat and River Authority staff and River Warrior volunteers regularly remove these invaders. Please sign up to be a River Warrior if you’re interested in joining this fight.
How did the Apple Snail get into the San Antonio River, you may ask? These aquatic species are found in many home aquariums. So, it is most likely that these non-native invasive species, similar to the Plecostomus, have been introduced into our basin by people who have illegally dumped their fish tanks into the river. Citizens are encouraged to help stop the spread of non-native invasive aquatic species by never dumping aquarium contents in a Texas river, lake, or natural body of water.
There are other non-native invasive species to consider as well. Zebra mussels, for example, can multiply rapidly, and infested streams and lakes have reported colonies of zebra mussels taking over habitats and nutrients from native fish and mussel colonies. This past year, zebra mussels were identified in Medina Lake, which is within the San Antonio River Basin. Zebra mussels can interfere with recreation and wreak financial havoc on infrastructure, so there is a large concern now that this invasive species is in the basin. Learn how you can slow the spread of zebra mussels here.
You can minimize the impact of non-native invasive bird species by not feeding the wildlife and you can help stop the spread of non-native invasive plant species by only planting native species around your home. Community members who recreate along River Authority parks and trails can also help to stop the spread of non-native species by reporting any new sightings of non-native invasive species to the River Authority’s Environmental Investigations Team. To learn more about how to stop the spread of non-native invasive species, please visit texasinvasives.org.
Human Impacts on the Environment and Pollution
An interesting study released in early 2021 indicated that very few of world’s rivers are undamaged by humanity and another study released prior to Earth Day in April 2021 showed how researchers are uncovering a plastic cycle in the atmosphere.
New River Authority Parks
The River Authority firmly supports the health and quality of life benefits of nature-based recreation. Over the past decade, the River Authority has added nature-based recreational activities throughout the basin including hike and bike trails, paddling trails, picnic and camping areas, playgrounds, fishing, birdwatching, and even disc golf courses. These river-based recreational resources have attracted thousands of users to bask in the beauty and enjoyment of nature, while the River Authority is well-aware of the benefits of nature-based parks, science is demonstrating that being in nature and nature sounds are healing.
A park usage score is one of the metrics of this river basin report card. During this past fiscal year, the River Authority opened the Escondido Creek Parkway, expanded the Goliad Paddling Trail, and added the North American Friendship Garden to Confluence Park.
Westside Creeks Restoration Project Takes Large Step Forward
Shortly after President Biden took office in January 2021, he moved quickly to place environmental justice at center of sweeping climate plan. The Administration’s move to focus on environmental justice issues helped advance the Westside Creeks Restoration Project as the project was recognized in the President’s Budget in June 2021.
The River Authority is committed to utilizing the best available science and data to inform our policies, programs, and projects to protect the human and natural resources which are critical to ecological integrity, economic vitality, and quality of life throughout the San Antonio River Basin and across the state. Climate Resiliency is the ability to plan and prepare for, endure, and recover from severe events. Over the past two decades, the San Antonio River Basin has seen more intense short-term droughts as well as more intense wind, hail, rainstorms, and extreme heat events.
The River Authority is focused on improving the basin’s resiliency when experiencing significant changes in precipitation, both floods and droughts, resulting from changing climatic conditions. Protecting and improving the health and safety of the San Antonio River Basin requires the River Authority to use the best available science to inform public policy as well as public and private infrastructure investments.
While we did not identify a specific climate resiliency or climate change metric to include in this report card as a graded score, there were several stories that came out last year that we do believe warrant mention in this section of the report card.
- On July 14, 2020, the World Economic Forum claimed 395 million new jobs would be created by 2030 if businesses prioritize nature.
- On July 27, 2020, the Texas Tribune wrote about how Texas ranchers, activists, and local officials are bracing for megadroughts brought by climate change.
- On December 1, 2020, the World Resource Institute suggested 5 keys to a climate-resilient recovery after COVID-19.
- At the beginning of 2021, reports came out indicating that the billion-dollar disasters of 2020 shattered U.S. record.
- In a year that included many negative stories about the worsening of global climate conditions and biodiversity loss, a positive story came out near the end of the fiscal year indicating that San Antonio is listed by the EPA as among the top cities for green building.
These five stories were including this in the San Antonio River Basin Report Card because we believe it is important to encourage community discussion about climate resiliency. We understand there are challenges associated with the diversity of opinions related to climate change. We believe common ground can be found to support sustainable and scientifically-sound public policies and investments if community discussions are focused on finding solutions that maximize economic, environmental, and quality of life benefits rather than focusing on potential partisan and social divides. We encourage the public to follow and tag the River Authority on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and use #BeRiverProud to tell us your thoughts about climate resiliency and climate change, and be sure to tell your elected officials as well.