As a long-time resident of the west side of San Antonio, and as someone who has dedicated much of my life to being a passionate advocate for positive change for the community I serve, I am excited by the recent announcement from the San Antonio River Authority (River Authority) regarding the Westside Creeks Ecosystem Restoration Project (Westside Creeks). On January 20th, the River Authority announced that the Westside Creeks has received the full federal share of the project funding through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Work Plan (Work Plan). This is a major announcement that holds significant promise for our community!
The $75 million allocated in the USACE Work Plan will fund the federal share of the remaining design and the subsequent construction of the project. As local project sponsor, the River Authority will continue to work closely with the USACE to jointly lead the Westside Creeks through design and construction along with Bexar County, which will provide most of the local funding for the project, and the City of San Antonio, which has already invested in hike and bike trails along the Westside Creeks.
The recent funding announcement came as the result of years of hard work, and there is now much more work ahead as the Westside Creeks is moving from a vision to a reality. The Westside Creeks is a community-based ecosystem restoration effort started in 2008 by the River Authority. At that time, Roberto Rodriguez represented the west side on the River Authority Board of Directors, and his initial leadership should be credited with advocating for this transformative project.
I have kept the Westside Creeks as my top priority since being elected to the River Authority Board of Directors in 2013. So, I am particularly pleased with the progress that has occurred over the past year. This recent $75 million announcement of USACE Work Plan funds to design and construct the Westside Creeks follows the June 2021 announcement where the President’s Budget included the initial tranche of Preconstruction Engineering Design funding for the project. President Biden’s support of the Westside Creeks last year was a significant milestone for the project, and it clearly paved the way for the recent federal funding announcement which is undoubtedly tied to the Administration’s plan to invest in environmental justice and equitable economic opportunities across the country. This project is in the heart of our west side community, which is predominantly made up of Hispanic residents who have, for far too long, been overlooked economically and environmentally. Once this ecosystem restoration project is completed, the west side will finally have access to the health, recreational, and economic benefits of local waterways, which will vastly improve the quality of life for our community.
If you are unaware of the project details, the Westside Creeks aims to restore the tributaries to the San Antonio River that were previously channelized for flood risk mitigation purposes. This project is of great significance to the west side community, as it will transform 11 miles of Alazán, Apache, Martinez, and San Pedro creeks by restoring the aquatic and riparian ecosystems of creeks, including 222 acres of native aquatic and riparian vegetation that will be replanted with native grasses, wildflowers, and trees. While reconstructing the creeks into more natural channels, the Westside Creeks will also maintain the present level of flood mitigation protection. The ecosystem restoration components of the project will also include additional recreation benefits that will be incorporated into the existing hike and bike trails that the River Authority constructed in cooperation with the City of San Antonio’s linear creekway trail system.
The Westside Creeks is very similar to the wonderful ecosystem restoration work that was completed nearly ten years ago on the south side along the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River Walk. In fact, the Westside Creeks will complete the restorative connection between the San Antonio River and the west side tributary creeks.
When completed, the Westside Creeks will provide significant environmental justice and community benefits, which are of greatest importance to me and the community I serve. These benefits will include improving environmental and water quality conditions; promoting comprehensive watershed management; advancing neighborhood transportation safety; providing access to outdoor, environmental recreation activities in the heart of San Antonio’s west side community; and reconnecting west side residents to these historically important creekway systems through an outdoor living classroom for students of all ages to explore and learn about a restored ecosystem.
I would like to thank my fellow River Authority board members for their continuing support of this project along with Derek Boese and Brian Mast of the River Authority staff for their tireless efforts to move this project forward. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Precinct 2 Bexar County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez, and Precinct 1 Bexar County Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores have been long-time champions of the Westside Creeks and the financial support for the project from the Commissioners Court must be commended. The City’s leadership must also be recognized for their support of the project, including Mayor Ron Nirenberg, District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo, District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo, and District 3 Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran. The Bexar County federal delegation has also strongly advocated for the project given four Congressional districts will benefit from the Westside Creeks, including Congressmen Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), and Tony Gonzales (TX-23).
While there is a moment to give thanks and congratulations to all who helped secure this critically important federal funding for the Westside Creeks, this moment is brief, because, as I’ve said, there is much more work ahead to ensure the project is designed and constructed in a way that best benefits the residents of the west side of San Antonio. The next step in the process to move the Westside Creeks from vision to reality will be for the River Authority, as local sponsor of the project, to enter a contractual agreement with the USACE. It will likely take several months for the project contract to be agreed upon and signed. The design and construction timelines will be developed after the contracting work is completed. The River Authority will assist the USACE in the design and construction of the project together with local partners Bexar County and the City of San Antonio. This effort will also include a series of public meetings to engage the community in the design and construction of the project, which will be led by the River Authority, in collaboration with the USACE, local governmental partners, and the Westside Creeks Oversight Committee.
This is where you, the citizens, can join the two co-chairs, Robert Ramirez and Skye Curd, and the representatives of 20 local community organizations that comprise the Westside Creeks Oversight Committee. In the months and years ahead, the engineering and environmental experts at the River Authority and USACE will design and construct the project, and your input during the public meeting process will be encouraged. While the River Authority and USACE will be responsible for the ecosystem restoration aspects of the project that will result in environmental justice benefits to the community, the economic equity aspects that may be associated with this project, such housing, job support, and small business development, are outside the jurisdiction of the River Authority and USACE. This is where you can use your voice and share your equity ideas and solutions with Bexar County and the City of San Antonio, which are the governmental project partners that have the jurisdiction to tackle these important economic equity issues.
As an elected official, I know the representatives of Bexar County, the City of San Antonio, the River Authority, the federal delegation, and USACE want to hear from you and are seeking your continued support of this vital community project. The River Authority is in the process of updating the Westside Creeks Ecosystem Restoration Project website to include information in English and Spanish. Please visit westsidecreeks.com for more information about the project, project updates, and future public meeting announcements. I firmly believe the Westside Creeks is an incredibly important project that will be transformational for our west side community. I am inviting all west side residents to become informed and engaged in the ecosystem restoration design process and accompanying economic equity discussions.
Lourdes Galvan is a businesswoman and former San Antonio District 5 councilperson. She brings a wealth of experience in community service to the San Antonio River Authority. Ms. Galvan works as a business development specialist with Dependable Business Solutions. Galvan is excited about her role and has been a major supporter of the Westside Creeks Ecosystem Restoration Project for many years.