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Cleaning Up Olmos Basin

The San Antonio River Authority (SARA), and the cities of San Antonio and Alamo Heights are teaming up with hopes of cleaning up parts of the lower Olmos Creek basin.  In a public meeting last week, the river authority revealed the findings of a six-month study meant to help determine the feasibility of a garbage collection system along Olmos Creek.  It’s not just local governmental agencies and environmentalists that are concerned about the garbage that washes down nine tributaries to the Olmos Basin. Residents and businesses in the area north of the San Antonio River headwaters also hope the study’s results and suggested fixes can help reduce the amount of debris often found there.

Map of Olmos Basin Watershed
Map of Olmos Basin Watershed

In a recent television news report, employees and golfers at the Olmos Basin Golf Course say that even moderate to light rains leave behind a range of objects, from mattresses, plastic bags and shopping carts to beach balls, basketballs and tires. Heavier rains and flash floods yield mounds of mud mixed with garbage.  SARA coordinated efforts to secure cash matches to meet a $30,000 challenge grant offered by Olmos Basin-area residents Jack and Valerie Guenther. SARA, San Antonio and Alamo Heights each chipped in $10,000 toward the study.

Debris at Olmos Basin Golf Course after rain
Debris at Olmos Basin Golf Course after rain

The firm HDR Engineering studied a 30-square-mile area from the Northwest Side to near Olmos Park. The consulting engineers looked at a range of factors, such as available land, stream flow velocity, the annual trash load in the basin, costs to maintain and operate any possible fix, and whether a fix could fall prey to vandals.  HDR examined 12 sites along the basin and different kinds of potential solutions. The firm ultimately recommended the placement of two bandalongs, a form of in-stream/channel control, near the U.S Highway 281/Basse Road interchange. A bandalong is a floating litter trap that functions quietly and is absent of mechanical aid.

Proposed Bandalong as Potential Solution to Watershed Pollution
Proposed Bandalong as Potential Solution to Watershed Pollution

SARA is mulling the development and placement of the bandalongs as part of a pilot project. The next step is for the river authority to see what type of funding could be available for the project to become a reality.  SARA officials added that it’s possible a litter trap project could become a piece of the long-term Olmos Basin restoration project, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is leading.  Also, SARA officials said it likely could be a city of San Antonio capital project, meaning it would have to undergo a process of scoring and ranking.  Alamo Heights officials and residents said they feel anything that could help to cut down on the amount of trash ending up in the lower Olmos Basin may encourage area property owners to do their part by cleaning up their land after a flood event.

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