Urban Waters Revitalization in San Antonio, TX

[ MUSIC ] Judge Nelson Wolff: Our city grew up along the waterways of San Pedro Creek and the San Antonio river and so we are defined by that. [ Music and sounds of water ] As we’ve gone along though, and urban development came those waterways became under serious threats. Narration: As San Antonio grew, strong storms and storm water runoff from impervious surfaces created serious floods that would eventually threaten the city itself. In the 20th century, the Army Corps of Engineers saved the city but at a great price; turning historic and life sustaining creeks into drainage ditches. Judge: We just moved the water out, you know, we don’t care about the ecology or the restoration, just get it on down the road. [ Music and sounds of water ] Adele Cardenas Malott: So, the Urban Waters project that we have here in San Antonio is actually a unique project in itself. The city and the San Antonio River Authority actually approached the agency on becoming one of the designated communities. Narration: The EPA co-leads this Urban Waters project and provides support in convening as many as 14 different federal partners with the city of San Antonio to help conceive and negotiate ways to restore or provide access to urban waterways. Suzanne Scott: The reconnecting of the neighborhoods back to the creeks is a very, very important component particularly in this Westside Creeks project because these Westside Creeks were really part of the culture of this community. Narration: The restoration of San Pedro Creek is part of the Westside Creeks project. Paul Elizondo: I grew up in the neighborhood I was born two blocks away and that was part of my playground, I was a downtown brat. When I was young we used to swim in that creek and everything else, however, it would get flooded. Army Corps of Engineers came along, they prevented the flood – besides a system of gates and channelization they also put in a concrete ditch. It’s something that touched the heart of the community in a very cold way. Suzanne: So now through this ecosystem restoration project we’re going to, to the best of our ability still balance the flood protection but also bring back very critical habitat so that these important features of these creeks will now be able to reengage with the community they’ll be able to have fish and birds and crawdads and the things that they remembered, that will become now part of these creeks again. Narration: San Antonio is taking steps to make sustainability a component of future growth. Doug Melnick: Sustainability is a thriving economy; it’s a fair and inclusive community and a healthy environment. I think all of our waterways define that. They aren’t just waterways that are delivering storm water downstream, they are economic drivers, they are recreational amenities that contribute to the health and well-being of our community. Narration: The Olmos Creek restoration is one example of turning a challenge into an asset. Nina Nixon-Mendez: The Creek really suffers from a series of flood events over the past decade and one of the major problems with the creek is an inordinate amount of flood debris. What this restoration project represents is the opportunity for neighborhoods and our region to connect to this urban creekway that runs through the city. Narration: Back downtown, HUD’s Choice Neighborhood program will revitalize distressed public housing and leverage a waterway restoration to make a healthier neighborhood. Arrie Porter: This neighborhood is located on the near east side and so it’s a jewel. It’s a jewel in that you already have access to downtown. This entire neighborhood will be a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood when it’s completed. We have a concrete channel currently that is going to be reconstructed into an earthen channel and then we’ll have a linear park that will be a part of those improvements. And the bike trails, the walking trials will connect to the Salado Creek. Brandon Ross: Well, where we’re standing now is on the Salado Creek Greenway. This is a piece of a larger system in San Antonio that consists currently 47 miles of trail. And we’re hoping also that this system of greenways will be the beginning building blocks of a larger system of pedestrian and bicycle conductivity for the people here. Arrie: So we’re excited about that because it will give this neighborhood and these residents an opportunity to get outside, play, be healthy, recreate and so we’re looking forward to that. [ MUSIC ] Narration: The San Antonio River runs through San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The ecological restoration of the Mission Reach took about 6 years and 271 million dollars and was financed and executed by local government, the Army Corps of Engineers and private donations. It also benefitted from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Mardi Arce: While many people think of the resources here at the national park as the churches, everyone thinks of the beautiful churches and oh, that’s the mission, that’s not the mission, that’s a piece of the mission. The mission was the community, it was the farm fields, it was the ranches, it was the acequias. And so the river with its connection with these acequias made this the reason that the missions are here. At the time that the park was established back in the late 1970’s there was concern about the condition that the river was in. The ecosystem restoration is just fantastic and so now our visitors who come here – we take great pride in directing them to the river to see what kind of wildlife is there. Narration: San Antonio has found that ecological restoration can lead to world class results. Suzanne: In 2011, we had opened two phases of the mission reach and we had the Secretary of the Interior Salazar came to that opening and at that point said he was going to support the application for the San Antonio Missions to be designated as a World Heritage site. And this summer, in July, we received the World Heritage designation. It was just an incredible achievement for this community because everyone had worked so hard to make sure that these missions could be on the world stage. [ MUSIC ] Suzanne: I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve been able to get people to understand and appreciate the importance of these rivers and creeks within this urban environment. Brandon: You know, we build the hike and bike trail but it’s essentially just a small piece of construction that goes onto something that was already beautiful and has been for a long, long time. It’s really just nature that is really the most precious asset of the whole program. Judge: If anybody else has got a river or a creek, you don’t know what a jewel you have if you’ve let it deteriorate on you. You need to come to San Antonio and see what we’ve done; maybe it would give you some ideas. Paul: Water is life. What we’re doing with water in Bexar County and San Antonio is bringing more life, better life to the city. [ MUSIC ] [ MUSIC ]

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