San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

July 6th, 2009
River woes include drought, litter

During drought, the Rio Vista Falls is as popular as ever. Photo by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

As the drought worsens, San Marcos officials residents struggle to keep at bay a further decline in spring flow and other perils to the San Marcos River, including trash.

City officials and others in the know seem united in the view that beating the drought, reducing litter and other perils to the river, cannot succeed merely by governmental decrees, but through the everyday efforts of many individuals committed to sustaining what is widely considered the city’s most precious economic and aesthetic resource.

More water being pumped from the Edwards Aquifer than ever before, coupled with the prospect of an unresponsive public and a 1950s-style drought, prompted Aquarena Center Director Ronald Coley to admit earlier this year that the San Marcos River could dry up. The San Marcos Springs, which feed the river, have not ceased flowing in all of recorded history.

“Spring flow has been on a steady decline now for the past several weeks,” said Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) Spokesperson Roland Ruiz. “Earlier this year, San Marcos Springs, in particular, seemed to be on a steady decline. Of course, we attribute much of that to the ongoing drought. Weather patterns have not changed in a way that would change that. We had some rain in May. It was almost average, but still, even now, we’re looking at about a 21-month period where we’ve had low average rainfall … Absent any significant rainfall, and given the hot, dry pattern that we’re in, if that were to persist for any period of time, we would anticipate that the spring levels would continue to decline.”

As of June 29, the San Marcos Springs were flowing 94 cubic feet per second lower than the historical monthly average.

City of San Marcos Conservation Coordinator Jan Klein said the city will likely impose Stage 3 drought restrictions sometime in July. Stage 3 restrictions would entail a prohibition on landscape watering more than once every two weeks, on the washing of impervious surfaces, and on using decorative water features.

“I think over the years, we’ve had maybe one or two (tickets for water infractions),” Klein said. “We haven’t really done it often at all. Most of the time, when we talk to people and educate them a little bit, usually that’s enough, and that’s all it takes, fortunately.”

The city adopted an additional water management tool at the beginning of the year: civil penalties that can be added onto utility bills.

“I’m hoping we won’t (have to use that), but with the drought being as bad as it is, I think we are certainly more likely to take enforcement action” Klein said.

No city staff is assigned to look for water violations, though Klein said employees in transit throughout the city are supposed to report infractions. Klein said she has been issuing more warnings now than ever before.

“And that’s good,” Klein said. “I mean, it’s good that people are keeping their eyes open and kind of letting me know what’s going on out there, because we do rely a lot on our citizens to sort of be our eyes out there and let us know what’s happening.”

Current Stage 2 water restrictions include, among other prohibitions, a ban on watering with sprinklers and automatic sprinkler systems except on designated days of the week between 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. to midnight, though hand watering is allowed anytime.

On the litter front, private and city employees list alcohol consumption as the greatest contributing factor to river litter and most problems that occur at city riverfront parks.

“What we did to try to cut back on (litter) is, we have these little eco-bags that we put on all the tubes, but there’s still a huge litter problem,” said Lucas Spencer, a two-year employee of Lions Club tube rental. “People just don’t care about the river sometimes.”

Spencer and City of San Marcos Watershed Protection Manager Melanie Howard said beer cans constitute most of the litter they see in the river.

“When we have our river cleanup … we always find a lot of beer cans,” Howard said. “So, alcohol and the litter are very connected issues.”

Howard said that although glass bottles are prohibited in all city parks and in the river to prevent injuries, she still sees “plenty of them on the river.”

Said San Marcos Emergency Management Coordinator Kenneth Bell, “Most of our issues are directly related to alcohol consumption. Almost in every case, when it’s something we’re going to take action (on), whether it be an enforcement action or medical-related action, they’re all related to alcohol — bad decision-making, the sort of thing that goes along with that.”

San Marcos Park Ranger Billy Colburn said that although littering and other problems exist at riverside parks, he has seen the situation improve over the last 13 years.

“We’ve gotten better with enforcement,” Colburn said. “We have more rangers now. We’re out here every weekend, and there’s also a San Marcos police officer out here every weekend with us, too.”

Colburn said most people engaging in recreational activities in the river on weekends are from out of town.

Threats to the river from non-human sources mainly include elephant ear plants, originally introduced into the river by humans. Elephant ears draw large amounts of water from the river and crowd out native species. Water hyacinth is another invasive plant species introduced into the river by humans, though it has less of a foothold than elephant ear.

Howard said residents are welcome to remove elephant ear plants.

“That would be great,” said Howard. “That would be wonderful. One way they can do it is, anytime you want to pull ’em out — the ones that are kind of in the river rather than on the land — (they) can just pull those and then they can get rid of them however they want — you can put them in the trash can.”

Bell said people have had to be hospitalized after ingesting elephant ear, which can also cause skin irritation. Elephant ear and water hyacinth may be suitable for use as compost.

Bell and Colburn said anyone tampering with river wildlife, including invasive species, will be restrained from doing so unless authorized by the city. Residents interested in helping eradicate invasive species may contact Howard or the Parks Department to make arrangements, which may include obtaining special identifying clothing.

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0 thoughts on “River woes include drought, litter

  1. It is so sad people go to the river and leave behind their trash. Common decency is lacking. Is there a way to replant elepahnt ears?

  2. I thinks so. I knew someone years ago, who planted some in a section of the yard that didn’t drain very well. The elephant ears did great and the standing water problem pretty much went away.

    I don’t recall if the plants came from the river, but I believe they did.

    I Googled transplanting elephant ears and found a discussion on the gardenweb forums, where the consensus seemed to be that if you plant them in the fall and cut them back so that the stems are just a few inches from the bulb (no leaves), they will do fine.

    Of course, they are water hungry plants, so it is probably best just to throw them out or compost them, unless you have a standing water issue you want to try to tackle.

  3. Interesting article. As a newcomer two years ago, I had a couple disturbing experiences with inebriated folks in City Park. Then I spent a day down in Landa Park, and noted how much more pleasant an experience it was. Guess why? People weren’t drunk!

    When I spoke to someone at the city offices in San Marcos about this (open public consumption of alcohol), they pretty much laughed me off. As it was explained to me, it would be political suicide for anyone to try and ban alcohol, and the city has no juristiction over the river.

    I lived in a college town prior to moving here, and there were pretty strict laws against exactly what we see on the river every day. They were enforced. Why couldn’t that work here?

    True, trash won’t go completely away ever without education, but if everyone agrees that alcohol consumption on the river is the major contributor – then don’t we need to think outside the box a little?

  4. Actually, we were picking up trash last night as we paddled the canoe around and there were as many styrofoam cups (Sac n Pac, Sonic, etc) as anything else.

    Perhaps the outside the box thinking could include biodegradable cups at our local convenience stores and fast food places. There are lots of movements to ban plastic bags. Why not do away with foam cups?

  5. i live two blocks from the rio vista dam and see lots of trash that is not alcohol related such as food containers, drink cups, discarded shoes, swimsuits, floats, diapers, and other debris although beer bottles are one of the biggest culprits. one problem i see is that during high traffic times, the existing trash cans are full and trash spills over everywhere. providing staff to deal with trash throughout the day would be more productive than just passing through the morning after. while some folks just leave their trash where they are sitting, having sufficient trash cans i think would help. also, money for staffing at the parks would be nice too like actually ticketing people for having glass and littering. dare i suggest the city charge entrance fees for the park? i know its everyone’s river but it takes money for upkeep. and there are plenty of us who can drink our beer out of cans and not become drunk and disorderly and not pollute the river 🙂

  6. “…Aquarena Center Director Ronald Coley to admit earlier this year that the San Marcos River could dry up…” The most salient point of this article. Only a year ago, a local hydrogeologist and a local aquatic biologist insisted that the river wouldn’t dry up for decades. They laughed at me when i said it would be dry in 10-20 years if trends didn’t change. Water-rights apologists need to get real and stop acting like water-wasting is a inherent human right, and the city needs to step up as well.

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