My River POV: Allison Elder

The River Authority
Dec 18, 2020

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

River Authority's Director of Legal Services Allison Elder

Allison Elder, JD, Director of Legal Services

I have always been fascinated by the idea of understanding what makes a community a great place to live. Throughout my childhood and into adult life, I have lived in a variety of different cities across the country. As a child, my family watched crew teams race on the Charles River in Boston. As a college student, I loved running along Town Lake in Austin. The places I enjoyed the most have good public access to water. So, it was natural that I was drawn to a professional life promoting and protecting the river in my (now) hometown of San Antonio.

Museum Reach of the San Antonio River Walk at the Turning Basin

My husband and I moved to San Antonio in 1989. We enjoyed strolling along the River Walk, but there was little additional access to the river or its tributaries. My how times have changed! Today, citizens have many choices when it comes to enjoying nature in San Antonio, from the urban Museum Reach of the San Antonio River Walk to the remote and rural Medina River Natural Area and trail and the Land Heritage Institute. These places provide public recreational and educational opportunities in a way that enables people to connect with nature. The San Antonio River Authority (River Authority) has played a key role in these projects, and many others. 

One of my favorite aspects of my work is helping to construct and sustain these types of amenities. San Pedro Creek Culture Park is a great example of our work. This project is providing valuable flood control benefits by taking portions of properties downtown out of the floodplain, promoting urban development. But it is also infusing public art in the west side of downtown and is telling little known stories about many cultures of San Antonio. It also is a demonstration site for many of the low impact and sustainable building strategies promoted by the River Authority. Have you used the mobile app for San Pedro Creek? If not, I encourage you to download it to learn more about this project.

River Authority accepting the 2017 Thiess International Riverprize at the River Symposium in Australia.

As the attorney for the River Authority, I enjoy advocating for public laws that reflect the community’s value of the river as a resource. I have noticed that people all around the country and the world are often very proud of their rivers. I learned an inspiring lesson about aligning law with the value of natural resources in 2017 when I attended the River Symposium in Brisbane Australia. At this international conference, the River Authority received the coveted Thiess International Riverprize. We also learned about a dramatic change in the law in New Zealand. The Whanganui River is a major river in the North Island of New Zealand. It is the country's third-longest river, and has special status owing to its importance to the region's Māori people. In fact, the local Māori tribe has fought for the protection of their river for 140 years.

In March 2017, this river became the world's second natural resource to be given its own legal identity, with the rights, duties, and liabilities of a legal person. The River can now speak for itself and promote, advocate, and defend its health and wellbeing. What a concept!

The Whanganui River is of special and spiritual importance for Māori and is regarded as taonga, a special treasure. The San Antonio River is our own taonga, and I am honored to work every day to advance its protections.