By Steven Schauer, SARA

The San Antonio River Authority (SARA) is grateful for the good-natured humor of “Sir” Charles Barkley and his recent verbal jabs at the expense of the San Antonio River.  SARA is also thankful for the all the local citizens who have rushed to defend the honor of the San Antonio River, including the Mayor of San Antonio, Julián Castro, who created a hilarious video poking fun back at Mr. Barkley.  SARA, as the agency with the mission to sustain and enrich life in the San Antonio River Watershed, thought now would be a good time to provide some actual facts about the river to go along with all the opinions floating around.

San Antonio River Saspamco Paddling Trail near CR 125 in Wilson County
San Antonio River Saspamco Paddling Trail near CR 125 in Wilson County–photo courtesy SARA

The San Antonio River is in fact a river, not a creek, as Mr. Barkley is fond of saying.  The history and culture of San Antonio were established along the banks of the San Antonio River first by the Native Americans and then the Spanish Missionaries who settled here because of the river’s superb water quality.  The river’s headwaters is a series of springs in the Olmos Basin area where water from the Edwards Aquifer bubbles ups and flows through Brackenridge Park, the River Walk and then on to the Gulf of Mexico. The River Walk is only a small part of the San Antonio River, which actually flows for over 240 miles through Bexar, Wilson, Karnes, Goliad and Refugio Counties gaining in size and volume before converging with the Guadalupe River and finally flowing into San Antonio Bay.  The entire San Antonio River Watershed drains over 4,194 square miles, including parts of fourteen counties, and contains over 8,800 miles of streams that drain into the river.

Mr. Barkley has commented that basketball teams are “sent fishing” when they are knocked out of the playoffs, so he may be interested in knowing that there are at least 73 species of fish supported within the watershed.  And, if Mr. Barkley is interested in more than fish, he may want to know that the San Antonio River Watershed riparian corridor also supports numerous mammals, birds, insects and reptiles, and the fresh water inflows into San Antonio Bay also supports the habitat of the endangered whooping crane.

The “muddy” appearance of the River Walk is because the river’s natural bottom and shallow depth leads to sediment being stirred up by the boats and after rain events.  While bacteria levels in the upper San Antonio River are still higher than SARA would prefer, there has been a decline in bacteria levels in the River Walk over the last several years due to many positive actions by governmental partners and businesses – and more improvements are being implemented.  On most days, the water quality throughout the rest of the river meets the State’s criteria for water quality standards; however, pollutant levels are highest after rain events when contaminants and chemicals from the streets, parking lots, yards and other sources are washed to the river.

Bexar County and the City of San Antonio have invested millions into improvements along the River Walk north (Museum Reach) and south (Mission Reach) of downtown.  SARA is charged with maintaining these new additions and to preserve the ecosystem and health of our treasured river throughout the watershed. With a growing population, it will take all of us to protect the river.

YouTube video

Here are a few simple things you can do that can make a big difference in the future cleanliness and health of the river.

  • Pick up after your pets.
  • Properly dispose of trash or better yet recycle.
  • When visiting the river, please do not feed the wildlife.
  • Turn your gutter downspout toward your yard or flower bed instead of to the driveway or street.
  • Educate yourself on rainwater harvesting, rain gardens and other sustainable land use practices.

So, thank you Mr. Barkley, for your “trash talking” comments about the San Antonio River.  We are proud to defend the river publicly to you or anyone else.  Just as we rally behind our Spurs, let’s remember to rally for our river and be good stewards of this wonderful resource. To learn more about sustainability and how you can help the San Antonio River by becoming “watershed wise,” please visit SARA’s website at

Steven Schauer is the manager of External Communications at the San Antonio River Authority.   Follow the San Antonio River Authority on Twitter at @sanantonioriver

Carolina Carnizales, a former Rivard Report intern, graduated with honors from UTSA and now works in Washington D.C. in the national DREAM movement.