The History of San Antonio Water

By Allie Perez for George Plumbing Company, Inc.
April 27, 2018

From its inception to its most renowned tourist attractions, San Antonio has always been obsessed with water. As San Antonio celebrates its Tricentennial year, we celebrate the origins of our historic city. As early as 1691, Spanish missionaries celebrated mass on the banks of the San Antonio River on the Feast Day of St. Anthony, the city namesake. One of the three oldest cities in Texas, San Antonio now tops elite tourism lists for the ever-evolving San Antonio Riverwalk. Since its birth, San Antonio always led the way to provide quality water to its residents.

While the area had been occupied by Native Americans as early as the 1500s, European settlers and missionaries did not begin settling until the 1700s. Like most modern Texas cities, they derive from the establishment of Spanish missions. The missionaries searched for suitable geography, natural defenses and proximity to water. San Antonio possess those attributes in abundance, which attracted the Spanish missionaries to establish Mission San Antonio de Valero (aka The Alamo) by the San Antonio River. To supply the missionaries with water and irrigation sources, they created acequias (irrigation tunnels), aqueducts and dams. Expertly built, these early water systems were so effective that a few still operate today!

Flooding and drought have always been a deep part of San Antonio history. Identified as an early challenge for the area, flooding hazards have plagued San Antonio consistently since its settlement forcing it to evolve and adapt. With the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and tax dollars, the city created two flood tunnels in the 1990s to offset the inevitable flash floods in the area. Adversely, long hot summers produce unrelenting droughts which required San Antonio Water System to initiate restrictions to ensure safe drinkable water year round.

The San Antonio water system may not have been able to boast about its advancements if not for a rare salamander intrinsic to the area. In the early 1990s a blind Texas salamander set San Antonio spinning to adjust to a court ruling for the protection of the critters. The ruling placed seemingly impossible restrictions on city-wide water usage during droughts. The mid-1990s brought additional restriction rulings forcing San Antonio to think creatively about water solutions. Without these restrictions, San Antonio may not have been prepared for population booms years later.

Ownership of the water system passed hands many times before finally settling on the current San Antonio Water System. From private local to out of state owners, municipality managed to board operated, no doubt the water system management and ownership has evolved over time. Despite ownership, obtaining multiple sources of water for San Antonio residents has always been a top priority due to inconsistent rain water.

Currently, the Vista Ridge Pipeline project hopes to bring the largest non-Edwards Aquifer supply in San Antonio history. The 142-mile long pipeline will run through multiple Texas counties parallel to the Interstate 35 corridor. The pipeline will channel groundwater from the Carrizo Aquifer. SAWS established an agreement with the owner of the groundwater leases to a 30-year term to solidify water for the future. Completion of the project anticipated for the year 2020.

Working to revitalize the area, The San Antonio River Authority (SARA) launched the San Pedro Creek Project to improve water function while highlighting San Antonio culture. A combination of public art, water conservation, lush landscaping, innovate design and celebration of history, San Pedro Creek Project set lofty goals with its four-phase project. With projects this inspiring, the future of San Antonio water projects is guaranteed to brim with creativity and culture.

Despite population booms, deadly flooding, multi-billion dollar projects and federal restrictions, San Antonio is still consistently rated one of the top water providers in the country. Providing high quality drinking water through creative outlets and multiple sources will fuel the future of San Antonio water and overall development of the city. Advanced and affordable water systems attract big business to cities like San Antonio. The future of San Antonio future flows brightly with the promise of reliable water through innovation.