- Associated Press - Thursday, May 10, 2018

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - The new San Pedro Creek Culture Park is a great place for casual wading as temperatures climb this summer but was not designed for swimming, officials said just days after the downtown park’s grand opening.

“We want people to enjoy the creek, and enjoy the area. Just use it in a way that it was intended to be used, which is wading - not swimming,” said Suzanne Scott, general manager of the San Antonio River Authority, which is overseeing the revitalization of the creek.

The San Antonio Express-News reports the primary concern is potential ingestion of contaminants such as E. coli bacteria from bird droppings or other animals that make people sick, along with fuel and other automotive fluids containing hydrocarbons that are washed from streets and parking lots into the creek during rainstorms.

“Just as we’ve said a lot of times on the San Antonio River, it is a creek in an urban environment,” Scott said. “It is subjected to runoff when it rains, and sometimes the contaminants can linger for several days.”

A half-mile segment of the park opened Saturday, May 5, with a daylong festival and nighttime fireworks, part of San Antonio’s Tricentennial celebration.

Eventually, 2.2 miles of the creek through downtown will be redone, changing an unsightly drainage channel into a linear park with public art, walkways, benches and water features. The $57.3 million park, a flood-control and beautification project, was funded by Bexar County with the city of the San Antonio as project partner.

At the park’s north end, the Plaza de Fundación, a symmetrical series of gentle waterfalls accented with arc-shaped rows of limestone blocks, is an inviting place for children and dogs to wade in ankle-deep water on a textured stone bottom. But they also have been spotted just below the wading area in a 2-foot-deep trough - fully immersed in the water.

Scott said the river authority plans to add more “no swimming” signs in the area, along with signs that the water is “not treated and not for consumption,” like chlorinated water in a swimming pool.

The water in the creek originates underground. When the springs are flowing at the headwaters of the creek in San Pedro Springs Park, water flows about a mile through a channel below VIA Metropolitan Transit headquarters and the Five Points area before entering a flood-control tunnel, then is drawn up through a shaft at the north end of the park.

“The good thing is that recirculation of the water in the tunnel keeps it fresh and keeps it from going stagnant,” said Kerry Averyt, senior engineer at SARA.

But despite filtration systems at the tunnel inlet and in the section of the creek that runs through the park, water in the wading area is not fully filtered or treated for human contact. Parents are encouraged to bring wipes or hand sanitizer to clean children whose hands touch the water.

Averyt called the threat of an E. coli exposure from wading possible but unlikely.

“If you’re going to allow your children to wade, make sure that they don’t get completely submerged,” he said.

The same is true for the San Antonio River, which also is considered unsafe for swimming because of similar contaminants and urban pollution.

“We tell that to people who are canoeing in the river or kayaking or paddle boarding to always be aware that’s just good practice,” to use hand sanitizers or wipes, Scott said. A citation for illegal swimming in San Antonio can carry a fine of up to $500.

In the culture park, SARA is using five landscaped features, or bioswales, to remove contaminants from the creek and continues to add more plants that, as they mature, will further help clean the water, she said.

The river authority currently is working on the next segment, from Houston Street to Nueva Street. Once the entire 2.2-mile stretch is completed, the creek will function more like a normal flowing stream, with contaminants settling out over time, Scott said.


Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com

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