Expanded San Antonio River draining for cleanup

January 3, 2011 6:14:41 AM PST
Tons of sediment that have contributed to making the San Antonio River murky will be removed as part of this week's draining of the downtown business district waterway. The city's Parks and Recreation Department scheduled the annual draining of the river, through the famed River Walk, to run Monday through Jan. 11.

Excavators could remove up to up to 3,000 tons of sediment from areas not previously scoured because they have a natural river bottom, not the concrete base found elsewhere along the River Walk, the San Antonio Express-News reported Monday.

The more intense sediment-removal process began in 2010 in other nearby River Loop segments.

Previous areas from which sediment had been removed were the main channel and the extension that stretches east from Alamo Plaza to the Grand Hyatt San Antonio and the Marriott Rivercenter. While those segments of the river have a concrete bottom, the River Loop, also known as the "historic bend," which connects the two, has a natural river bottom, said Paula Stallcup, the city's downtown operations director.

An attempt years ago to clean the natural river bottom ended when a tractor getting stuck in the silt, according to Stallcup.

This month's effort will include city workers putting down rock so that heavy equipment can travel along the river bottom and remove sediment, said Stallcup. Up to 5 feet of silt have built up in stretches of the River Loop, but crews will not initially try to remove all the sediment.

"If we can (remove) a foot and a half from the whole historic bend and determine what the water quality impact is, then, if we need to go back, it will be easier because the ... rock will have been laid," said Stallcup.

A crane will be used to haul containers of silt from the river bed. The silt will then be disposed of in a landfill, said April Hernandez, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.

River barges, popular among tourists visiting the Alamo City, frequently stir up the silt, said Stallcup.

"It's amazing the clarity of the water before the silt gets disturbed. It's beautiful," she said. "We still want the beauty of the river barges. But we also want that beauty where you can see the natural bottom of the river."

Bill Brendel, past president of the San Antonio Hotel & Lodging Association and general manager of the Crockett Hotel, says the annual river draining impacts businesses, but comes at the time of some of the city's lowest occupancy rates.

"When one of the No. 1 draws to the city is taken away, it's always a little bit of a challenge," said Brendel. "But (the river) has to be maintained. It has to be kept up."