Martinez Creek Sewer Line May Limit Green Makeover Of Westside Creeks

Re-Natured San Anto
Expect beautiful sunsets to follow creekway restoration. Architectural renderings were made available courtesy of the San Antonio River Authority.

Decades after channelizing vast lengths of San Antonio’s rivers and creeks as means of controlling floodwaters, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers engaged with the City of San Antonio and Bexar County in the ecological restoration of 8 miles of the San Antonio River south of downtown along what has become known as the Mission Reach Ecosystem Restoration and Recreation Project.

meeting over maps
San Antonio resident Janette Casanova speaks with Army Corps of Engineers rep Daniel Allen about the Westside Creeks Restoration Project.

The effort sprung from the grudging realization among planners and engineers of nature’s own capacity to slow and filter floodwater and years of community meetings that ultimately created the $358-million San Antonio River Improvements Project.

Now a similar project is being advanced to bring more than 11 miles of Westside creeks — and the 222 acres that surround them — back to a natural brilliance still remembered by many older residents. 

The Westside Creeks Restoration Project seeks to undo the earlier flood-control actions by the Corps that converted living creeks into concrete-lined drainage ditches. However, the project won’t be all that it could be.

At a public meeting at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center last night hosted by the Corps and San Antonio River Authority, Corps rep Daniel Allen told a crowd of about 40 that Martinez Creek (one of four creeks included in the project) can’t meet the Corps criteria for full inclusion because of uncertainty surrounding the future of an aged, leaky sewer line running in its channel maintained by the San Antonio Water System.

That drove SARA-affiliated Rudy Farias from his seat. Remembering a sewage spill in the creek of 100,000 gallons back in 2002, Farias asked: “How much would it cost to move that sewer out of the creek? … The pressure should be put on SAWS to help remedy this problem.”

westside creeks project
Areas to be restored fully or partially under the the Corps’ recommended course of action.

Later, local resident Henrietta LaGrange, speaking of a long history of sewage spills in the creek behind her house, said, “We can make SAWS accountable. It’s not good. We can do it,” and was interrupted by applause. “I see a lot of things. And I smell a lot of things,” she said.

Allen said a recently settled lawsuit brought against SAWS by the U.S. EPA may ultimately force the city-owned utility to move the Martinez Creek sewer. However, the terms of the Consent Decree (pdf) are still being hammered out between the two parties.

“We don’t know when this area will be addressed,” Allen said of Martinez Creek.

SAWS representatives had been invited to last night’s meeting, Allen said, but no one from the city-owned utility was in attendance.

Meanwhile, attendee Ronald Rocha asked for guarantees that Native American graves would not be disturbed and governmental seizures of private property via eminent domain wouldn’t follow the creekway improvements. To that Allen said the National Environmental Policy Act, which will guide the project, forbids the disturbance of graves and that the project was strictly limited to property within the creekway itself — not adjacent lots.

Southside resident Ricardo Martinez blamed changes along the San Antonio River for exacerbating flooding in the Mission Espada area and objected to the efforts to renaturalize the riverbanks because of the amount of plastic that was ultimately washed away.

“All of that was a lot of waste to water the weeds that you planted there,” he said.

Another meeting on the Westside Creeks Restoration Project is being held tonight at the VIA Metro Center.

Westside Creeks Feasability Study Public Meeting
VIA Metro Center
Terry Eskridge Community Room
June 26, 2013 – 6:00 p.m.
1021 San Pedro Avenue
San Antonio, TX 78212