San Antonio’s newest mural, unveiled Wednesday morning on the city’s South Side, pays homage to the city’s water history and celebrates the area’s indigenous roots.

The mural, titled “Yanaguana Rain Dream,” is by Cruz Ortiz, one of the artists who helped revive the mural tradition on the city’s West Side in the 1990s. Cruz worked with his spouse Olivia Ortiz, CEO of Burnt Nopal creative design studio and their four children to bring the mural to life.

The work is the result of a partnership between the San Antonio Water System and the Texas Water Foundation, which commissioned the piece as a part of its statewide Texas Runs on Water campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the state’s growing water supply needs.

Muralist Cruz Ortiz (center) in front of the water-themed mural he painted with help from his children and wife Olivia Ortiz (right). Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

This is the second mural commissioned by the nonprofit as part of the campaign, which launched in 2021, said Sarah Schlessinger, CEO of the Texas Water Foundation. The first, located in Amarillo, features a girl swimming in a natural body of water. It was unveiled in July.

“Texas is fortunate to have a number of water champions that are working to make sure that we have a secure water future, including SAWS,” Shlessinger said Wednesday prior to the unveiling. “But we also have a lot of challenges ahead of us, including rising population, aging infrastructure and the impacts of climate change.”

Water security has long been an issue of concern for Texas, but as the state population continues to explode, droughts are becoming more intense than they have been in previous years, experts say, adding extra pressure to conserve.

San Antonio, which is still considered in drought, experienced record-setting heat this summer with historically low rainfall — just 11 inches this year, a third of the annual average.

The campaign hopes to “inspire Texans to connect their pride of place, their pride of identity with the water that keeps it running,” she added.

The mural, located at 1419 Roosevelt Ave. on the side of the Gill Equipment Co. building, features a depiction of the San Antonio River — known to early indigenous people as Yanaguana — and the inhabitants who relied on that water as they shaped and settled the land, Cruz Ortiz said.

He said the mural was inspired by the rock art style found in West Texas. Olivia Cruz said this was the first time their children’s helped their father, after he did the planning and outlining. St. Edwards University art student Luna Gonima — a family friend of the Ortiz’s — also helped, and was present at the unveiling.

Virginia Ortiz, 8, and Angelica Ortiz, 7 pose next to their names on the mural they helped their dad, Cruz Ortiz, paint at 1419 Roosevelt Avenue on the South Side Wednesday.
Virginia Ortiz, 8, and Angelica Ortiz, 7, pose next to their names on the mural they helped their dad paint. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

“This mural was really important to me; we live a couple of blocks down the road, and so when SAWS and [the Texas Water Foundation] came to us with several locations, I definitely wanted this spot,” Ortiz said.

As a resident of the area, Ortiz said he’s aware of the social issues that affect residents of the neighborhood, including homelessness and drug addiction, and sees creating a stronger connection between people and water as part of bolstering the community’s health.

“Water has the ability to heal,” he said. “It’s so important for different entities — whether it’s government, corporations, developers or community members. “It’s critical for San Antonians, he said, “to understand the power of [what] water’s healing can do for a community.”

Brianna Fuller, campaign manager for the Texas Water Foundation and a San Antonio resident, told the San Antonio Report that she wanted San Antonio to be home of the campaign’s second mural because she has a deep connection to the water in her hometown.

“As soon as I was hired on [at the foundation] I said, ‘Well, Robert, are you ready for a San Antonio Runs on Water mural?” Fuller said. “And so we made that happen very quickly.”

Both Schlessinger and SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente credited Fuller for bringing the campaign to San Antonio. Puente, chairman of the Texas Water Foundation’s board of directors, said SAWS was excited to partner with the foundation because the utility understands the importance of making water conservation a community-wide value.

SAWS has for years encouraged water conservation, and its work has paid off. Total per capita water consumption in San Antonio has decreased from 225 gallons per day in 1982 down to 117 in 2016 — and SAWS plans to decrease it even further.

The utility has also diversified its water source portfolio in that time, approving in 2014 a contract with Vista Ridge LLC to purchase up to 50,000 acre-feet per year of Carrizo-Simsboro Aquifer groundwater, which SAWS today credits with securing the city’s water security.

Puente praised Ortiz for capturing San Antonio’s beginnings, and said it was “a real privilege to both serve on the board of the Texas Water Foundation and to help share this wonderful mural here on the city’s South Side.”

Schlessinger said the foundation is aware of San Antonio’s water success story, and hopes the new mural inspires San Antonians “to feel how water continues to shape its story.”

“Everything we love about San Antonio runs on water,” she said.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.