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Hey, San Antonio, You're Swimming in Fecal Matter! 

click to enlarge Luke Metzger and Annalisa Peace discuss Environment Texas' new report on the state's contaminated water. - SANFORD NOWLIN
  • Sanford Nowlin
  • Luke Metzger and Annalisa Peace discuss Environment Texas' new report on the state's contaminated water.
San Antonio has a poop problem, according to a new environmental report. And so, for that matter, does the rest of the state.

Austin-based Environment Texas analyzed state regulators' test results for bacteria at Texas beaches, lakes, rivers and streams — and found that nearly 49 percent of the 1,450 freshwater sites tested had enough to be considered unsafe for swimming at least one testing day in 2017.

In San Antonio, 23 freshwater sites were unsafe for swimming on at least one-day last year from fecal contamination, and 10 were unsafe for at least three days. Four San Antonio River sites downtown had unsafe bacterial levels every time they were tested.

"The more we pave our communities, the more stormwater rushes along that pavement and picks up things like animal waste and carries them into our rivers and streams," Environment Texas Executive Director Luke Metzger said during a news conference along the San Antonio River.

The shitty news arrives as many Texans look to cool off for the long Labor Day weekend at lakes and beaches. It also follows the city closing San Pedro Creek Culture Park this summer to keep people from splashing around in water with unsafe bacteria levels.

While swimming, wading or tubing in bacteria-contaminated water is unlikely to kill healthy people, it can still lead to gastrointestinal illness, respiratory disease, eye infections and other nasty stuff. A single 2011 E. Coli incident at a Texas lake sickened 56 people, sending one to the hospital.

"People expect the waterways in our state to be clean," Metzger said. "Even if you're not swimming in them yourself, even the most most watchful adult may not be able to keep their kids or dog out of the river."

And the problem isn't limited to freshwater. Of 120 statewide beach locations tested last year, 63 percent were unsafe for swimming on at least one day, according to the report.

As we have reported, the state keeps an online crap count for its beaches. But Metzger said he'd like to see more regular testing and also a Website updating contamination levels at freshwater sites.

San Antonio also has an opportunity to curb contamination from stormwater runoff as updates its Unified Development Code next year, said Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.

While a 2015 plan created incentives for developers to set aside greenspace for better stormwater filtration, few have participated. As a result, both GEAA and Environment Texas will lobby council to turn those incentives into mandates as part of the code revamp.

"It's very good stuff," Peace said of the incentive program. "It's just that nobody's using it."

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January 26, 2022

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