San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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March 17th, 2008
Council considers lifting swimming ban on stretch of river

by BRAD ROLLINS
Managing Editor

When local officials wanted to ban swimming in parts of the upper San Marcos River back in 1999, they ran up against guarantees in the state constitution that public waterways can be used by the public.

So instead they designated the river between the Spring Lake dam spillway and the University Drive bridge a “curfew zone.” The curfew was “any time, day or night,” in the words of the ordinance.

At sunset one day in November, Rio Vista Falls was empty but the whitewater park hosts thousands of rivergoers on a typical summer day. A proposed revision of city codes would make it illegal to interfere with tubers or other people passing through the spillway and punish violators with a fine up to $500. Another proposed change would lift a rarely enforced ban on swimming in a stretch of the river upstream from Rio Vista.After Texas State University and the Army Corp of Engineers realigned the concrete spillway near where the lake becomes the river, the fence that stopped people from entering the area was taken down and swimmers flocked back to the popular spot. But the “curfew” law remained on the books for nearly a decade even as it was mostly ignored by police.

“Hundreds or thousands of people every year are in fact guilty — each and every one of them — of direct violation of this statute. Most people are not aware they are even violating the law,” resident Dave Newman told council members last month in urging a repeal.

At a meeting in February, the current city council decided unanimously to instruct the city attorney to draw up a repeal of the ordinance, a measure sponsored by council members John Thomaides and Gaylord Bose.

At their meeting on Tuesday, the council will vote on a revised portion of the city code that lifts the “curfew” for the Spring Lake spillway portion of the river as well as Spring Lake within 100 feet of the dam and “all of the bank areas along the San Marcos River from the Spring Lake Dam to the University Drive bridge, between the Sessom Drive right-of-way and [the former] Joe’s Crab Shack restaurant and the western edge of the river channel, and between the Clear Springs Apartments property and the eastern edge of the river channel.”

The revised ordinance also replaces a general ban on stopping or standing in “the spillway of any dam, flood control structure or storm drain in or upon the San Marcos River” with a more specific prohibition on stopping or standing in, or preventing another person from passing through, the spillway at Rio Vista Falls. Violations could result in a $500 fine under the draft ordinance.

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