An Introduction to Watershed Sustainability
How we care for our watershed now will determine the health of rivers and streams for future generations to enjoy. But, a sustainable watershed is not just good for the environment. In the long run, it will save taxpayer money through reduced stormwater infrastructure costs. It will also improve quality of life in our watershed through increased green space and landscape beautification.
If we do not take steps now to encourage a healthy watershed, we will be susceptible to federal government intervention in the future. We feel that it is important for the community, not the federal government, to be responsible for decisions made about the river.
Polluted water in the San Antonio River harms more than just the fish and wildlife in our local area. Water that drains into the creeks and rivers in San Antonio flows all the way to San Antonio Bay. Water from the San Antonio River has direct impact on the health of wildlife in the bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Below are several key components of a sustainable watershed. These components are not mutually exclusive – they all work together to create a healthy watershed.
|Good water quality||Water with good water quality has very low levels of pollutants and contaminants. It is safe for recreation such as swimming and kayaking and is a healthy home for wildlife.|
|Healthy riparian habitats||A healthy riparian habitat contains native vegetation that acts as a buffer that filters out pollutants before they enter creeks or streams. Healthy riparian habitats are also able to support a diverse array of native animal species.|
|Healthy aquatic habitats||A healthy aquatic habitat provides a safe home for aquatic animals that live in our watershed. A healthy aquatic habitat is free of pollution and contains a variety of areas for animals live.|
|Sustainable stormwater infrastructure||In a sustainable watershed, stormwater polishing techniques are utilized throughout the watershed that actually reduce the amount of taxpayer funded infrastructure that is needed. There will still be some need for public infrastructure. However, infrastructure is built in an economical, environmentally-friendly and less obtrusive way.|
How SARA Defines Sustainability
Think for a moment about the word sustainability. What comes to mind? For most people, environmental sustainability means conserving energy and water, recycling or reducing air pollution. All of these things are essential in creating a healthy environment that can be sustained for generations to come. However, maintaining clean and healthy water in our creeks and rivers is also an essential element of environmental sustainability. SARA is dedicated to achieving a sustainable watershed through improving water quality in the San Antonio River Basin. However, we believe that sustainability must be achieved by implementing solutions that meet a set of criteria that is often referred to as “the triple bottom line”. In order to meet these criteria, sustainability solutions must:
- Be good for the environment
- Be good for people
- Make sound financial sense
Threats to a Watershed
Below is a listing of some common threats to sustainable watersheds. These threats usually harm rivers by increasing contaminants in water bodies and/or increasing the volume, velocity and natural temperature of stormwater.
Luckily, there are solutions available to protect our watershed from the threats mentioned below. Stormwater management, low impact development, green infrastructure, and stream restoration are a few best management practices that the San Antonio River Authority is currently implementing on various sites and projects.
|Nonpoint source pollution||
||Nonpoint source pollution is pollution that enters waterways from many, many different small sources. This type of pollution harms waterbodies by increasing levels of bacteria, nutrients and hazardous chemicals.|
|Impervious ground cover||
||Hard surfaces do not allow stormwater to absorb into soil. This increases the volume and velocity of stormwater entering waterways, which leads to erosion. Water quality is also harmed because there is no vegetation present to filter out pollutants.|
|Unnatural animal populations||
||When people feed wildlife rather than allowing animals to be fed by natural food sources in their habitat, populations can grow to unnatural levels. An example of this is the duck populations on the River Walk in San Antonio. Another way animal populations can grow out of control is if the animal species is a non-native species that has no natural predators. An example of this is feral hogs that are seen throughout the San Antonio River Basin. Overpopulation of wildlife is bad for the watershed because it tends to result in elevated bacteria levels in water bodies and erosion.|
|Concrete Drainage Channels||
||Concrete drainage channels are designed to quickly move water off of streets and property, and they do this job well. However, they also result in erosion to creeks and rivers as water rushes out of the concrete channels and into water bodies. These channels also raise water temperature unnaturally and do not assist in helping filter out contaminants from stormwater coming off of streets and roads. Luckily, there is a method of channel design called “natural channel design” that allows contaminants by mimicking natural stream processes using vegetation. This method also conveys floodwater more efficiently while minimizing erosion to streams. An added benefit is that they can also be much more visually appealing.|