San Antonio River Authority officials hope to reopen the head of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park by June 21 after closing the section because children were swimming in the water, which may contain harmful bacteria.
The River Authority, which oversees maintenance of the park, closed the section at the end of May so work crews could make the spout and channel that symbolically start the creek shallower, said Suzanne Scott, the authority’s general manager. The decision came after visitors, mainly children, were spotted swimming and submerging themselves in the water there.
Officials intended for the Plaza de Fundación to be used for wading, not swimming, because of harmful bacteria that may be in the water, particularly after rainfall. The cost for shallowing the creek and conducting other maintenance is estimated at $120,000, Scott said.
In order to discourage people from swimming, a grate will be installed over a two-foot deep spout that contributes water to the creek at the northern part of the plaza, and an 18-inch channel designed to flow down to the rest of the creek will be made level with the surrounding cascades, Scott said.
“It is a creek, and it does get the influence of runoff from stormwater that comes into the creek upstream of the tunnel inlet,” Scott said. “As it comes into the creek … that stormwater brings with it the pollutants from streets and rooftops and parking lots and all of the other pollutants that get picked up.”
Of those pollutants, E. coli is the primary bacterial threat to human health if it is ingested, Scott said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some strains of E. coli can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and respiratory and other illnesses.
“After rain events we do see spikes in E. coli bacteria that’s washed into creeks and rivers,” Scott said. “San Pedro Creek is one of the creeks that we see this. … It’s not in a condition that people should ingest the water.”
For water to be considered safe for swimming, the San Antonio River Authority states there should be no more than 126 instances of E. coli per 100 milliliters. For activities with less risk of ingesting water, like ankle-deep wading, the allowable number is 206 instances.
Data provided by the River Authority shows that instances of E. coli in the San Pedro Creek ranged from 36 to 460 during May. Scott said runoff from rainfall prompted the spike on May 25.
Scott added, however, that the River Authority wants to make the city’s rivers and creeks more recreational, even increasing water quality enough to make certain areas swimmable. She said that there are currently bioswales and other features along the creek to help filter pollutants out of the water.
The problem, she stressed, is that those functions do not stop runoff pollutants from entering the creek from surrounding watersheds. In order to reach their recreational goals, Scott said it “would take a community-wide effort.”
Scott said a rain gauge would be added to San Pedro Creek to further examine the correlation between spikes in E. coli and rainfall.
The Bexar County Commissioner’s Court authorized $132.7 million for the San Pedro Creek Culture Park, leaving maintenance of the project to the River Authority.