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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.

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.

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.


» Proposed changes to city codes on river usage [pdf]»

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11 thoughts on “Repeal of swimming ban on upper river under city council’s consideration

  1. Pingback: QUOTE OF THE DAY : Newstreamz

  2. Check with the River System Institute at Aquarena Springs (offices in the old hotel, which was just renovated). They do some monitoring through the Texas Stream Team program (formerly Texas Watch). Dr. Al Groeger in the Biology Department and Dr. Jim Kimmel in Geography are also good sources of information.

  3. I’m pretty sure the city checks water quality downstream of where wastewater effluent is discharged into the river. I do not know if they check upriver but I’d guess they’d need to for comparative data.

    Here’s something for you. I really found this Texas State study on endocrine disrupters in the river fascinating. I wrote about it at SMDR. The message to me is that our wastewater treatment plant is remarkably effective. But I think conventional wisdom is that most if not all of the several wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the river between here and the coast are very behind on filtering these byproducts of pharmaceuticals and other household products.

  4. By the way, Steve, I had mango/avocado enchiladas at Cool Mint Cafe when I saw you there today. They really were incredible. (I never realized the place is kind of higher end casual because, I guess, of the name.)

  5. If any of you remember Judge Rodriguez ruled that any one has the right to swim in the river any time under the Mexican Land Grant law applicable to the river in the Stefanoff case. In fact the ordinance is illegal as is a similar ordinance in New Braunfels. I ought to know as I litigated the case.

  6. I thought the endangered species aspect trumps Mexican Land Grant law? I heard the Texas Wild Rice is especially vulnerable to disruption by people in the water in certain places in the river. We’re new to the community so please bear with us while we learn about these things. But, certainly, I believe we allwant to protect this crown jewel of the community, the San Marcos River. I can’t be at this particular City Council meeting (schedule conflict), but I will certainly email the Mayor and each of the Council Members with a link to this article and discussion thread. I hope others are voicing their opinions and concerns to our elected leaders, too.

  7. I don’t know about where the Mexican Land Grant Law fits into things, but if you swim upstream of the bridge you are swimming in the habitat for at least 4 endangered species (The San Marcos Salamander, Texas Wild Rice, the Fountain Darter, and the San Marcos Gambusia), and you need to be very careful about what you do. DO NOT DISTURB THE ROCKS BELOW THE DAM! Don’t make pools or designs with the rocks. DO NOT PULL UP “WEEDS”! DO NOT FISH UPSTREAM OF THE BRIDGE! Unless you are working with the San Marcos River Foundation or Texas Stream Team and have the appropriate training and/or permits, you are committing a Federal crime. There are a number of researchers doing work which will help us protect the river, but if people don’t pay attention to the law, central Texas could lose access to three of our gems (Barton Springs, San Marcos Springs, an Comal Springs). We are very lucky that it isn’t enforced to the letter. Don’t mess it up for the rest of us! There are a couple of work days which you can volunteer for, and where you will get the training to identify the good plants from the bad. Wild Rice has seen a precipitous decline in the past couple of years, much from misguided people who think they are helping by pulling up “weeds”. Further downstream, I see people pulling up hyacinth, and letting it float. You aren’t helping. If you pull up hyacinth, throw it on the bank. Otherwise you are just spreading it. I’ve seen bankside homeowner do this, and they are making the problem worse. Hyacinth and elephant ear are invasive species and need to be controlled, but much of the effort is misguided.

    So please, enjoy the river, follow the rules, and cherish what we have.

  8. It seemed to me pretty much a mistake/oversight that the proposed revisions strike out the “curfew” for Spring Lake 100 feet upstream of the spillway. I don’t remember that part coming up when it was discussed before — just the river from the spillway to the bridge and the surrounding banks. I may be wrong.

  9. Props to the Mayor and Council Members for their quick and helpful responses in this matter. It sounds like this particular action is primarily a bit of housekeeping to reflect current reality. And, once the Habitat Conservation Plan is approved by US Fish and Wildlife, we can look forward to more being done to protect the integrity of the San Marcos River (and the endangered species therein).

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