The longtime general manager of the San Antonio River Authority is leaving the job for a role at an international environmental nonprofit.

Suzanne Scott, who leads the government entity that stewards the San Antonio River and its watershed, is leaving her position to become director of the Texas chapter of the Nature Conservancy on Nov. 9. Her last day is Oct. 30.

In a phone interview Monday, Scott said she had been recruited for the opening left by former Director Laura Huffman, who left the Nature Conservancy in April. Scott said she had not been looking to leave her current role but became interested after learning more about the nonprofit’s work across Texas.

“The more that I was engaging with the Nature Conservancy, the more I got very excited about the opportunity to really take all I’ve learned here and the experiences that I’ve had and sort of grow it to a statewide reach,” Scott said.

The Nature Conservancy, a nearly 70-year-old organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, is best known in Texas for its work to conserve land. The Texas chapter owns and maintains 40 preserves in the state and was involved in the creation of 34 Texas state and national parks. In San Antonio, the conservancy serves as a liaison between private landowners and the City through its Edwards Aquifer Protection Program.

However, Scott said she’s also attracted to the conservancy’s initiatives to protect Texas rivers, the Gulf Coast, and to counteract climate change.

Scott, 56, has lived her whole life in San Antonio, except during her undergraduate studies at Texas Tech University. Early jobs included stints at the institution now called the Southwest School of Art and for a marketing firm contracted to several River Walk restaurants.

She won’t have to leave her hometown for her newest job. Scott said she’s planning to work out of the Nature Conservancy’s San Antonio offices at the Pearl.

Scott started working for the river authority in 2000, leaving a position at Bexar County to launch the River Authority’s community and government relations department.

She advanced to general manager in 2007, when she became the first woman in Texas history to lead a river authority. Her office at the authority’s 100 E. Guenther St. headquarters let her see firsthand how her work has affected the public’s perception of the San Antonio River.

“Over the 13 years that I’ve sat in this seat, I’ve been looking out the window and seeing more and more people enjoying the river, paddling, running, walking, bringing their families,” Scott said. “It really gives me a lot of pride to see the work that we’re doing is being enjoyed so much by the public.”

During Scott’s tenure, the authority and its local partners completed the $384 million overhaul of the river that converted former concrete-lined drainage channels into the Mission and Museum reaches.

Those improvements helped San Antonio’s missions land a designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015. In 2017, the River Authority’s work earned the San Antonio River the International Riverprize, which officials have described as the Nobel prize of rivers.

“The River Authority and so many of its project partners are indebted to Suzanne for her past two decades of work making the San Antonio River and the creeks of this region both cleaner and more enjoyable for millions of people,” said Darrell T. Brownlow, chair of the river authority’s board, in a prepared statement.

Scott has also overseen complex negotiations among representatives of cities, rural areas, businesses, farmers, and environmentalists, all dependent on the same rivers and aquifers. Scott is chair of the 21-county South Central Texas Regional Water Planning Group and another stakeholder group focused on the relationship between rivers and coastal bays and estuaries.

“Scott has a proven capability for aligning diverse partners around a shared vision and securing the resources needed to protect our lands and waters in a way that enables people to thrive,” Michael Reuter, the conservancy’s Midwest division director, said in a prepared statement.

Scott also emphasized the authority’s work downriver from Bexar County, the most populous county in its jurisdiction. Under her watch, the authority has opened parks in Wilson, Karnes, and Goliad counties. Encouraging more people to walk and paddle along the river is part of Scott’s philosophy of how to keep the river clean and flowing.

“The more people appreciate it, the more people are going to want to take care of it,” she said.

Assistant General Manager Steve Graham, a river authority employee since 1991, will serve in Scott’s former role on an interim basis as officials search for a permanent replacement.

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is the San Antonio Report's environment and energy reporter.