Environmental Investigations Lead to a Safe, Clean, and Enjoyable River

The River Authority
Jun 29, 2021

The San Antonio River Authority’s (River Authority) Environmental Investigation Team works daily to help protect the waterways in the San Antonio River Basin. Whether it be surveying the San Antonio River for unauthorized activities with a birds-eye view from a helicopter, or deploying an emergency response for a chemical spill, the team is responsive and thorough. Watersheds within the basin are frequently patrolled for illegal activity and environmental crimes. When an illegal activity is found, an investigation takes place to identify harmful impacts to water quality, riparian habitat, and human health and safety within the basin.

Read along as we highlight the efforts of our Environmental Investigation Team and how you can join us in our efforts to prevent illegal dumping to protect our creeks and rivers!

River Authority Environmental Investigation Efforts

River Authority's Environmental Investigations team conducting an aerial exercise to detect illegal dumping sites along the San Antonio River Basin

Helicopter surveys are an important facet of environmental investigation and are generally conducted in the winter when trees have lost their leaves, allowing for a clearer view of the land. Team investigators will fly along the San Antonio River to collect observations throughout the waterway and floodplain. From the high vantage point, threats to the river come into focus. An example of what an investigator may see is a floodplain violation due to improper land development that will lead to unnatural erosion or the destruction of habitat. Illegal dumping sites that are secreted away from the road can also be unveiled in a helicopter survey.

Investigations also open when environmental concerns are reported to the River Authority. Whether it be a fish kill, unauthorized discharges, or illegal dumping, the team responds to complaints and communicates with landowners, state and local agency officials, regulatory officials, and the public as necessary to resolve and follow-up on emergency situations involving the creeks and rivers of the San Antonio River Basin.

The Environmental Investigation Team also works with the other teams across the River Authority to narrow in on the causes of any harmful impacts to the river as well as to maximize outcomes. For example, to investigate a fish kill, the Environmental Investigation Team works with other staff from the Environmental Sciences Department to have water samples analyzed for pollutants or work with the Watershed and Parks Operations Department to have debris and litter safely cleared from waterways.

Often, misuse of land which can cause harm to area creeks and rivers is due to lack of knowledge. Working and communicating with the public, including those who may have committed an environmental violation, are important duties of the Environmental Investigation Team. They educate the public about how abuse to waterways can degrade water quality and aquatic ecology, cause serious habitat destruction, and completely alter the hydrology of a creek or river. A call or visit by the River Authority's Environmental Investigations Team to explain why something should not be done often stops destructive activities and behaviors.

Dangers of Illegal Dumping

Illegal dumping site along the San Antonio River Basin

Illegal dumping is not just an unsightly issue, but a hazardous one, too. Illegal dump sites can leach out toxic chemicals such as paints, unused prescription medication, and automotive fluids onto the ground for it to be washed off into the nearby waterways and seep into ground water supply. The litter and chemicals are also carried by stormwater runoff to the San Antonio River and its tributaries impacting water quality and harming its ecosystem. Water that collects in old tires and buckets can also breed mosquito populations that serve as vectors for disease.

The River Authority helps prevent illegal dumping by annually hosting six household hazardous waste collection events (two per year in Wilson, Karnes, and Goliad counties) where certified vendors collect and transport the hazardous waste so it can be properly recycled or disposed of according to state and federal laws.

It is important to learn and share information for proper dumping resources. We often partner with government entities throughout our four-county service district to support their local waste collection efforts and encourage you to visit your local government’s website to find out more about their drop-off locations and scheduling.

How You Can Help

Used electronics are collected as part of the Wilson County Household Hazardous Waste fall 2019 collection event.

If you see something dumped in or near the San Antonio River or its tributaries anywhere within the San Antonio River Basin that you are concerned about or believe may be illegal or hazardous, your first call should be to your local law enforcement office. Your second call should be to the River Authority’s Environmental Investigations Team toll free at 1 (866) 345-7272. You can also report your concerns online at our Contact Us page. The River Authority’s environmental investigators will make sure that the appropriate agencies with enforcement powers are contacted. They will also research solutions to the problem and keep the person who reported the concern informed of the investigation’s progress. If you live in Wilson, Karnes, or Goliad counties, please make sure you visit our events page to find out about our upcoming Household Waste Collection events and make plans to attend to join us in our efforts!