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San Antonio River Improvements Project - Concept Design
San Antonio, TX

SWA Group - Houston

Nancy L. Fleming, ASLA
Managing Principal, SWA Group
1245 W. 18th Street
Houston, TX 77008
Tel. 713-868-1676;
Fax 713-868-7409

Project Purpose

1. Improve the quality of the San Antonio River upstream and downstream of the River Walk.

2. Enhance the quality of life for the citizens of San Antonio.

3. Maintain existing floodwater conveyance capabilities and increase them, if possible.

4. Restore the river to as natural a condition as possible, through fluvial geomorphology principles.

5. Increase plant, animal, bird, and fish habitat.

6. Create a compelling place for people to use.

7. Stimulate economic development adjacent to and near the river corridor.

Scope: Prepare a Master Plan for 13 miles of urban river right-of way up- and downstream of the Riverwalk within an 80' -300' wide right-of- way. Document the vision in a format that can guide the future design of the individual reaches.

Philosophy: The three equal components of a river are Hydrology, Nature, and People.

Intent: Capitalize upon a resource that has been ignored or mistreated for the past 50 years. Undo the negative impacts that were created by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and provide a useable amenity for the citizens.

Role of the Landscape Architect

Prime consultant leading a team including civil engineers, ecologists, fluvial geomorphologists, architects, structural engineers, and economists. Developed a vision for the project, based upon the owner's program. Formulated and led the design process, managed the team and the process with the Client group, led public participation meetings, prepared all drawings, designed and managed a project web site, coordinated the project with other processes being undertaken within the city, and designed/prepared a Design Guidelines manual. Sub-consultants undertook special tasks at the direction of the landscape architect, who evaluated and integrated them into the overall Master Plan vision. The Client group facilitated the landscape architect's process and provided assistance in setting up the locations of the public meetings and mailing invitations. The landscape architect was the spokesperson for the project in all public venues including presentations to the County Commissioners Court, the City Council, the San Antonio River Authority Board, and a series of public gatherings. They will continue in a design overview role until project completion.

Special Factors

The river area consists of two distinct reaches that vary in context and scale. The north reach right-of-way is approximately 80' wide, bordered largely by private properties, and flood-protected by a tunnel. The south reach, 150-300' wide, conveys three times the water of the north reach and has more public property adjacencies.



It is an engineered, trapezoidal channel devoid of trees, vegetation, and animals. USACE designed the channel only for floodwater conveyance without extra capacity to allow other improvements. The banks require continuous erosion repair and mowing of the turf grass within the channel. Neither reach is used or useable by people. The project Client group is comprised of the City, County and River Authority, each varying goals and objectives.


The river improvements will positively affect the lives of potentially 200,000+ residents of San Antonio and thousands of national and international tourists as well. It will create a healthy river along which the citizens can live, work, and play, but most importantly, one of which they can be proud. A continuous pathway for hikers and bicyclists will link the entire river from the river's headwaters at Brackenridge Park to Mission Espada on the south, creating a continuous transportation option along the entire river that will also tie into other important destinations.

North reach improvements are projected to stimulate hundreds of millions of dollars in high-density residential development and supporting uses such as restaurants, bars, dry cleaners, and drugstores. Planning has already begun for several projects. The improvements will tie into major city streets and integrate the river back into the city, stimulating development for 2-3 blocks beyond the river's edge. Pedestrian, bicycle, and new passenger barge access will be created along the river to provide connections to major destinations such as the San Antonio Museum of Art and future development parcels, such as the Pearl Brewery site. Habitat will be greatly increased through plantings and planted "crib" walls, to bring fish, riparian birds, and animals back to the river and improve water quality. In this way, the river will be a second "front door" to new urban communities and be reclaimed as an amenity.

The south reach improvements will be recreationally based and will support the existing and future single-family neighborhoods as well as broadly increase property values. New corporate campus development, similar to the HEB Headquarters redevelopment at an old armory site, will also be possible. The river will be restored to a more natural condition, including a meandering alignment and a widened and more stable channel. The design solutions will integrate the remnants of the old river and respect the historic acequias that still irrigate the land today. The landscape architect took advantage of public land adjacencies to re-grade and widen the channel banks to create a better relationship to adjacent uses. By doing this, the channel will be able to accept tree masses while also increasing floodwater capacity. The restored river and expanded woodlands will re-establish wildlife, bird, and fish habitat, and native grasses will reduce mowing requirements.

Because of its restoration qualities, the project qualifies for funding through USACE funds recently enacted by the federal Water Resources Development Act in 2000. Acquisition of these funds will enable the Client group to implement a project that will greatly contribute to improved environmental quality. Unanimously adopted by the Bexar County Commissioners Court, San Antonio City Council, and the San Antonio River Authority Board, the project will successfully address "Hydrology, Nature, and People".

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