After the Texas Trail Roundup a few walkers mentioned that parts of the Mission Reach of the Riverwalk — Saturday’s walk — were a little trashy. Oh, the embarrassment!
Just the Saturday before, the city had hosted its annual “Basura Bash (basura means “trash” in Spanish.) About 3,000 volunteers were deployed along the San Antonio river and 21 tributaries, including the San Pedro, Olmos, Salado, Indian, and Leon creeks. They collected 32.8 tons of trash and recycled 1.14 tons of metal, 84 tires and 2,504 pounds of electronics. That’s mucho basura! So what’s going on?
It rained, that’s what. Environmentalist remind us that any trash thrown on the ground ANYWHERE in San Antonio ends up in the river. Every plastic bag, empty beer can, candy wrapper and cigarette butt. And the river flows south . . . so the trash ends up right where we are walking.
The city and various other entities such as the San Antonio River Authority that have responsibility for the river and its banks take their responsibility seriously. There are employees whose full time job is picking up trash. Volunteers help keep the river clean: not just during the one day Basura Bash, but through the “adopt-a-river” program, and one-off volunteer activities. All Texans are warned “Don’t Mess With Texas,” and over the years we’ve gotten much, much better at not littering.
Trash bins, somewhat counter-intuitively, can actually make an area MORE trashy. They act as feeding bins for critters, who rummage through them to find discarded food. Big events — like our annual Fiesta — are huge trash producers, and the city is working on that, too, by rewarding organizers who recycle and penalizing those who leave a lot of trash. After Fiesta 2016 (which occurred in April, AFTER the Texas Trail Roundup) the San Antonio River Authority said crews picked up a total of 6.64 tons of garbage along the Mission Reach of the River Walk. And that was after the city picked up 55 tons of garbage. Yikes!
In 2005 the San Antonio River Authority deployed an innovative trash collecting barge, nicknamed “Lady Eco’ (eco=ecology.) The barge has two hydraulic arms that swing out from its sides, each with six nets that sweep the water one foot down and 35 feet across. It does one early morning sweep and another in afternoon, freeing the work crews, who used to scoop trash out of the river with nets, to concentrate on the river banks. On the Mission Reach, south of downtown, riffles, shallows and wildscaped river banks preclude the use of Lady Eco.
Another recent innovation is the installation of a trash trap on Riverside Creek and a trash boom along the Alazan Creek. Both capture trash up-river so that it can be easily collected before it is washed downstream.
The city periodically drains the downtown portion of the river to remove trash and built-up silt. Because of structural improvements, this only has to be done every other year now, in mid-January. In typical San Antonio fashion we make it into a party: MudFest! (Complete with a Mud King and Mud Queen.)
We care passionately about this river here. And we’re doing our darndest to keep it clean.