With the first San Antonio River basin report card in hand, the community can develop strategies to make the river a safe, clean, enjoyable, and even swimmable environment, river advocates said Tuesday.

The overall B grade the San Antonio River received on the San Antonio River Authority’s first such assessment is OK, they said, but there’s more work to do if people want to safely swim and fish in the river and area creeks year-round. Of the report card’s 12 indicators, six received A grades, but the river got a D for swimming standards and failing marks for public trash and flood insurance coverage.

The report card and its implications were the topics of a discussion Monday by a panel of waterway experts in an online event hosted by the San Antonio Report. Click here to watch the discussion.

“These report cards … can galvanize and catalyze actions that will result in an improving score,” said William Dennison, vice president for science application at the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science.

The San Antonio River Authority used the center’s Practitioners Guide to Developing River Basin Report Cards to do just that, said Steven Schauer, SARA’s director of external communications.

“We hope each one of these 12 indicators will eventually drive passion amongst the community to do their little piece in their backyard to make a difference … [and] inspire others to implement positive changes in their behavior,” Schauer said.

SARA is already promoting five steps San Antonio residents can take at the neighborhood level – from turning gutter downspouts away from hard, dirty surfaces to picking up pet feces – and will continue to seek partnerships with businesses and other agencies to make even bigger strides to improve the river’s health, he said.

Other things residents can do is refrain from feeding wildlife along rivers and creeks and ensure that non-native or invasive species aren’t introduced to the area, said Melissa Bryant, SARA’s director of technical services. Species such as apple snails, zebra mussels, and elephant ears “can really take over” aquatic and riparian habitats.

“Rivers are complicated. The water comes from many different places,” said Nicole Silk, president of the River Network. “If we really are going to have rivers that are clean, that are healthy, where we can swim, it’s going to take a lot more than any one agency or entity – it’s going to take us all.”

San Antonio has long struggled with littering, said San Antonio Report Editor Robert Rivard, who moderated the discussion. “How do we change the culture of the city?”

Silk noted that one successful strategy has been to promote the use of the Litterati mobile app that gamifies litter cleanup efforts – especially during the pandemic, when large-scale cleanup events aren’t being held. Local restaurants also can be encouraged to reduce the amount of single-use plastics they provide.

“There are probably … multiple strategies that you need to deploy if you really want to get to the heart of this,” she said. “Once you get people to actually see the litter and to understand they want an environment that is aesthetically pleasing to them, you’ll get a turnaround.”

People want to feel good in their cities, Dennison added. “It’s a public expression of caring to not have trash.”

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org