Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Population growth affects San Marcos River

By Chelsea Seifert
Texas State University student

Spring Lake at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment marks
the start of the San Marcos River. Photo by Chelsea Seifert

Running through the heart of the city, the San Marcos River is a vital aspect of the community, but as San Marcos continues to grow, challenges of development and protecting the river arise.

The San Marcos population was estimated at 54,076 in 2013 according to the U.S. Census Bureau, increasing the need for awareness and protection for the river. Construction, trash, various pressures from the growing population and the overall increased use of the river are the biggest ways it’s being affected.

Dianne Wassenich, program director of the San Marcos River Foundation (SMRF) said though the water quality has greatly improved since the 1940s there are new concerns regarding the maintenance of the river as San Marcos continues to change.

“With this growth we’ve mostly had to deal with numerous pressures,” Wassenich said. “Instead of our concentration being mostly on water quality, we’ve had to look at and pay attention to the building on recharge zones, pumping from the aquifer that decreases water flow and the large amount of litter.”

The SMRF was founded in 1985 as a way to be the voice of the river. Wassenich said the first 15 years of the organization’s existence was dedicated to improving water quality and wastewater discharge. SMRF began hiring scientists to conduct water tests in the 1990s and since then the river has been the cleanest it’s ever been.

However, the vast amount of construction sites around the city is threatening the improved water quality of the river. Dirt and sediment are increasingly polluting the river because of a greater area of smooth surfaces.

“With more building we have an increased speed of runoff such as concrete, metal roofs and sidewalks that leads directly to the river, and eventually everything will make its way there,” Wassenich said.

With approximately 11 projects in design and four currently in construction according to the City of San Marcos website, San Marcos is quickly becoming very developed to accommodate large growth.

Recent development has begun on a 306-unit, 1,000-bedroom apartment complex called the Woodlands of San Marcos being built off River Road next to Interstate Highway 35. All environmental protection plans were approved for this project, but Wassenich has her concerns.

Construction site of the Woodlands of San Marcos apartment complex
off River Road near Interstate Highway 35. Photo by Chelsea Seifert
“Building student housing along the river is risky,” Wassenich said. “If flood plains are built on, tons of debris can make its way to the river. And what if we have a bad flood like Halloween of 2013? Not only is the river in danger but so are the students.”

Today there are many protections and organizations striving to keep the river healthy and flowing.

The San Marcos Watershed Initiative is a 3-year research gathering process to implement a federally approved Watershed Protection Plan to support a flowing river. As the sole source of drinking water for more than 1.5 million Central Texan residents, the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance is a nonprofit that advocates for the preservation of the Edwards Aquifer and its springs.

Former Texas State student and current Grant Specialist at the university Jillian Trujillo said the river was the main reason she chose to attend Texas State, but now being a 13-year resident of San Marcos wishes the students were more knowledgeable of the vitality of the river.

“It makes me sad because I see the river being abused and polluted by its visitors and students,” Trujillo said. “I would like to see more educational programs targeted to the students and community explaining how the river is a life source and we need to take care of it.”

Despite developing protection plans, the amount of recreational use the river receives is difficult in maintaining litter but also the endangered species.
Signs, ropes and stakes mark the protected areas of the Texas Wild Rice
in the San Marcos River. Photo by Chelsea Seifert

The Texas Wild Rice is largely impacted by recreational users of the river where they may uproot and disturb its natural environment, according to The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment. As more people are using the river for various activities, the San Marcos Salamander has high potential of being stepped on.

However, with recent scientific studies beginning in summer 2014, areas of the river containing the wild rice were roped off and as a result, different species including the salamander began congregating in the rice where they could thrive and avoid human invasion, Wassenich said.

To Wassenich the purpose of the river is to draw people together and we all need to do our part and work together in preserving it to ensure its existence for years to come.

“The river is the centerpiece of our community,” Wassenich said. “Everyone knows of the San Marcos River and if we don’t do all we can now, that may not always be the case.”

Look at this timeline for a brief history of the San Marcos River.  

Chelsea Seifert is a senior journalism and sociology student at Texas State University and can be contacted at cps1@txstate.edu