In 2000, the River Authority was successful in obtaining Congressional approval to include environmental restoration and recreation as project purposes for SACIP (the 1954 federally authorized flood control project) – which opened the door for the development of the Mission Reach Ecosystem Restoration and Recreation Project as part of SARIP (the local plan conceived in 1998 to improve the river). The design for the downtown portion of SARIP was completed and a construction contract was executed in 2000; this section was completed in 2002, and was recognized with a historic preservation award from the San Antonio Conservation Society and the Downtown Alliance's Downtown Best award for the Best Arts & Culture Project. The River Authority formed the San Antonio River Foundation in 2003, whose purpose is to raise private money to bring artistic, recreational, environmental and educational enhancements to the river. The newly formed foundation has been actively supporting SARIP since its creation. By 2004, design of both the Mission and Museum Reaches were nearing completion. In 2005, planning began for the Westside Creeks Restoration Project to restore San Pedro, Alazan, Martinez and Apache Creeks while continuing to improve flood protection for the area. In 2006, the USACE approved a project cooperation agreement to initiate the construction phase of the Mission Reach Ecosystem Restoration and Recreation Project. Construction of the Urban Segment of the Museum Reach began in 2007 and was completed in 2009. In 2010, the River Authority won the Downtown Alliance "Best of" 2009 award for the Best Public/Private Partnership for the Museum Reach. Construction of the Mission Reach began in 2008 and is scheduled for completion in 2013.
Following the devastating floods of 2002, the River Authority focused on another major flood control project related to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) buyouts in the Cibolo Creek floodplain – this extended to the City of La Vernia, Kendall County (Comfort) and a subdivision in Bexar County by 2004, and Falls City, the City of Goliad and Goliad County by 2005. The 2002 floods also served as a catalyst for the creation of the Bexar Regional Watershed Management (BRWM) partnership which brings the River Authority together with COSA, Bexar County and 20 suburban cities within Bexar County to work cooperatively on water quantity and quality issues. The final dam within Salado Creek Watershed Project was completed in 2004, and dam rehabilitations in the Martinez Creek and Salado Creek watersheds were completed in 2005 and 2007. Beginning in 2006, the River Authority worked with FEMA to update and convert Bexar County flood maps to a digital format. The River Authority proceeded to take the lead in creating the new digital flood insurance rate maps (DFIRMs) for the entire River Authority District, which resulted in some of the most detailed DFIRMs in the nation becoming official in 2010. In 2008, Bexar County Commissioners Court approved a Flood Control Capital Improvements Program – through the BRWM partnership, the River Authority provided the county technical assistance with the planning for capital improvement program and real estate acquisition services for the program.
Water quality programs that had been developed in the 1990s continued to expand throughout the 2000s, adding the following projects: a biological survey of the San Antonio River to assess the risk of ecosystem stress resulting from groundwater contamination possibly related to area military activities; a wastewater monitoring and laboratory analyses project associated with a research study on restaurant wastes; a baseline fish population inventory near the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park; a watershed protection plan for SARIP for the purpose of describing targeted water quality issues, pollutants, nonpoint source pollution management measures and a schedule for their implementation; and a River Loop water quality and flow study. On a basin level, the River Authority became the lead agency to conduct a total maximum daily load assessment project to address dissolved oxygen and fecal coliform bacteria problems. The River Authority conducted a water quality monitoring and laboratory analyses project associated with a bacterial survey of the lower San Antonio River and development of a network of remote water quality monitoring stations throughout the river basin. The water quality monitoring activities associated with the Clean Rivers Program continued, as did the River Authority's cooperative project with USGS for operation and maintenance of stream flow monitoring stations. The River Authority also conducted an instream flows study and a fish community sampling study in the lower basin. The increase in tasks related to execution of the various contracts placed a significant load on the River Authority lab, which experienced not only expansion but investment in state-of-the-art equipment during the first decade of the twenty-first century. In 2007, the Environmental Sciences Department Laboratory held its grand opening, and a few months later, the lab received National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation.
As Bexar County experienced significant population growth, the River Authority responded by improving and expanding its wastewater treatment services. Numerous requests came to the River Authority for wastewater treatment services within Bexar County and in adjoining counties, and we responded by conducting regional wastewater facilities studies and assessments of cities and unincorporated areas in Bexar, Wilson, Karnes and Goliad counties. The River Authority went on to either take over or offer assistance to numerous wastewater facilities in smaller communities throughout the basin. In 2009, the River Authority Utilities Department and the City of Somerset received the Water Environment Association of Texas Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plant of the Year Award.
With regards to potable water planning, the River Authority continued its administrative role with Regional L, and entered into an agreement with SAWS and GBRA to secure the under-utilized portion of those water rights as a raw water supply for 50 years. When this agreement with SAWS and GBRA was terminated, the River Authority continued its involvement with a larger leadership role by agreeing to complete the Whooping Crane and Estuary Responses Project joint studies. The River Authority's involvement with water supply issues in the downstream counties was an important part of the agency's basin-wide program, including: entering into agreements to help provide potable water and sewer service to the citizens of Berclair and Fannin in Goliad County; providing grant funds for construction of the Cologne water system in Goliad County; joining Kenedy in Karnes County to submit a joint TWDB grant application to improve and upgrade the city's desalination facilities; and as a public service, purchasing the Calico Water System in Wilson County that provided water service to three subdivisions. By 2005, the River Authority began to take steps to acquire water rights by purchase to help ensure adequate environmental flows in the river. Throughout the 1990s, the River Authority was involved in discussions about how best to balance the use of Edwards Aquifer water for drinking with the need to provide flows to Comal and San Marcos Springs. In 2006, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) brought together a group of stakeholders, which included the River Authority, to participate in a regional, collaborative process to develop a plan to contribute to the recovery of the federally-listed species dependent on the Edwards Aquifer. This stakeholder process became known as the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP), and the River Authority has had a significant role in the EARIP from its inception through the present.
The River Authority remained committed to the recreational opportunities offered by the facilities at Braunig Lake and Calaveras Lake Park; however, in 2008, the River Authority amicably ended its 40-year relationship with CPS Energy to operate the lake parks in order to pursue other types of recreational properties throughout the basin. Other initiatives associated with parks and recreation activities occurred in southeastern Bexar County and in Wilson and Goliad counties within a context of basin-wide planning led by the River Authority. One of the first new recreation projects was an interlocal agreement with Wilson County for the development, operation and maintenance of Jackson Nature Park, a 50-acre tract on Cibolo Creek that had been donated to the county in 1999. In 2003, a regional park planning advisory committee was created which was tasked with providing community outreach and oversight to staff and consulting planning for an integrated regional network of nature-based park resources. Phase I of the Regional Park Planning Advisory Committee report was completed in early 2005, and Phase II was approved in late 2005. In 2006, the River Authority adopted Phase II of the San Antonio River Basin Plan for nature-based park resources, and established a Regional Park Coordinating Council to provide a forum for organizations involved in the plan. By 2007, the River Authority opened the Goliad Paddling Trail, its first officially designated paddling trail, and in 2009, the River Authority purchased nearly 100 acres of land along the San Antonio River in Wilson County to be known as the Helton San Antonio River Nature Park.
Growth in the number and complexity of programs administered by the River Authority in the first decade of the 21st century was made possible, in part, by the many interlocal agreements we executed with other agencies and by the board's decision to reinstitute the ad valorem tax on property within the four-county river basin beginning in the tax year 2002.
Construction of the SARIP Mission Reach Project continued with groundbreakings for Phases 2 and 3 of the project taking place in 2010. Phase 1 of the Mission Reach opened at the end of 2010 while Phase 2 opened in 2011. At the grand opening of Phases 1 and 2 of the Mission Reach, Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar claimed that the Mission Reach Project was leading the nation in urban ecosystem restoration as he publicly supported the World Heritage Site Nomination of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park – a nomination process that the River Authority continued to actively support through the Missions' inscription on July 5, 2015. Additional portions of the Mission Reach Phase 3 opened in 2012, including the first section of the Mission Reach that was accessible to paddle recreation. The Mission Reach Project, along with the Museum Reach which is north of downtown, were completed by the end of 2013.
Additional rehabilitation work on the dams operated and maintained by the River Authority was authorized in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The River Authority also took the lead on dam rehabilitation work outside its District when it agreed to oversee the work being done to the Medina Dam – that work was completed in 2012. From the late 2000s through 2012, the River Authority continued to work to leverage the DFIRM investment, both locally and with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This leveraging includes: The River Auhtority's role as a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) Delegation Partner with FEMA; the River Authority's roles in FEMA's RiskMAP program and recent mapping updates; the River Authority's role with Emergency Operations Center on the Flood Alert System for Bexar County; the River Authority's recent update of the downstream flood warning system; and the River Authority's development of holistic watershed master plans.
San Antonio River Authority's wastewater service continued to receive honors, winning the Water Environment Association of Texas 2010 Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plant of the Year, which went to the Salatrillo Plant and the River Authority's Utilities Department. Work continues on a new wastewater treatment facility in Bexar County known as the Martinez IV wastewater system. Additionally, an agreement was signed with the Alamo Community College District for the River Authority to provide permitting, project management, construction and ongoing operations and maintenance services for a new wastewater treatment plant at the ACCD First Responders Academy Campus, which is set to begin construction in 2012.
From the late 2000s through 2012, the River Authority has been involved with a number of water quality projects including: the administration and development of a total maximum daily load implementation plan for the upper San Antonio River and Salado and Walzem Creeks; the River Walk Implementation Project in the River Loop area; an agreement to conduct water quality surveys on Leon Creek as part of the Leon Creek total maximum daily load program; administration and conducting of water quality monitoring activities in accordance with the Clean Rivers Program; providing water quality modeling services for the Texas Instream Flows Program and Lower San Antonio River Instream Flow Study; undertaking total maximum daily load related projects in the San Antonio River Watershed; revising and updating of the Upper San Antonio River Watershed Protection Plan; and continuing long-standing water quality studies with the USGS.
Relating to both water quality and quantity; the Guadalupe, San Antonio, Mission and Aransas Rivers and Mission, Copano, Aransas and San Antonio Bays Basin and Bay Expert Science Team (BBEST) and Basin and Bays Area Stakeholder Committee (BBASC) submitted their recommendation reports in 2011. San Antonio River Authority has actively participated in both committees with the River Authority's General Manager chairing the BBASC and an executive team staff member being appointed as a voting member of the BBEST. Additionally the River Authority provided administrative support to both committees to assist in meeting the Legislature's strict deadlines. In 2012, the EARIP stakeholders submitted a plan for approval to the FWS, and the River Authority's role in the EARIP process expanded as the River Authority took on the responsibility to acquire 40,000 acre/feet of water in support the EARIP plan.
With development of the Eagle Ford Shale oil and gas fields underway by 2009, the River Authority became involved in a number of issues related to the burgeoning oil and gas exploration and development. Given the River Authority's ownership of the bed and banks of the San Antonio River and its tributaries, conveying easements across the San Antonio River and its tributaries to oil and gas companies and conducting onsite monitoring of the construction of the pipeline quickly became a role the River Authority played in the Eagle Ford Shale development. The River Authority also amended its surface water rights permits for irrigation use in Bexar, Wilson, Karnes and Goliad counties to add the purposes of environmental flow, recreation and pleasure, public parks, navigation, game preserves and industrial and mining uses. The new permitting requirements allowed the River Authority to lease surface water rights, which incorporate instream flows protections, to oil and gas companies and use the fees to fund environmental investigations and studies in the lower basin. Continuing its work with oil and gas companies, the River Authority provided information to the private sector companies on issues related to hydraulic fracturing (e.g. visiting well sites to suggest ways to make site more environmentally sound with regards to onsite detention). Additionally, the River Authority started working more closely with County Floodplain Administrators to develop a checklist of best management practices that are need to obtain permits for oil and gas sites being developed in the floodplain. In 2011, the River Authority organized a multi-agency summit to bring all the different regulators together in order to share information and develop contacts with each other. The River Authority also began working with the USGS in a Lower San Antonio River study of chemicals typically used in the hydraulic fracturing process to establish a baseline – future monitoring of chemicals will use this baseline to determine if more/less chemicals are found in the San Antonio River.
Furthermore, the River Authority installed a USGS water quality gauge at Highway 72 and the San Antonio River to monitor any changes in water quality. The River Authority will continue to fund the operations and maintenance of the gauge. Continuing its outreach to the local communities most impacted by the growth of the Eagle Ford Shale Play, the River Authority began hosting community workshops in 2012 to educate community officials, staff and citizens and various topics. The River Authority also started developing an ordinance booklet in 2012 for lower basin communities to use as a template to update land use regulations (e.g. how to better manage the growth of trailer parks and the use of septic systems or improve development standards to minimize stormwater runoff concerns). Taking a long-term view of the Eagle Ford Shale development, the River Authority began promoting the donation of surface water rights by the oil and gas companies when the water rights are no longer needed for shale development – these donated water rights will be used to aid in environmental flows protections. Additional long-term planning by the River Authority included promoting conservation easements to area land owners to protect their land in perpetuity. Finally, in cooperation with the San Antonio River Foundation, the River Authority is working to educate oil and gas companies on opportunities to support various river related parks, education programs and environmental studies throughout the basin with philanthropic contributions or by other means.
Beginning in 2011, the River Authority started spearheading discussions with the lower basin municipalities and counties regarding the formation of a Regional Watershed Management partnership (similar the Bexar Regional Watershed Management partnership we helped to create in Bexar County back in 2003). By the end of 2012, the new Regional Watershed Management partnership, formed by individual county, as it is in Bexar County. The southern basin Regional Watershed Management partnership provides a forum for regional discussions related to numerous watershed related issues, including the implementation of the recommendations being developed in the River Authority's watershed master plans.
Recreational opportunities continued to blossom in 2011 with the opening of the Branch River Park in Goliad. More recreational opportunities were added to the area in 2012 with the opening of the initial phase of the Helton San Antonio River Nature Park in Wilson County and the Saspamco Paddling Trail running from southern Bexar County into Wilson County. In 2012, the River Authority also began planning for a new linear creek trail system in Kenedy running along the Escondido Creek.