Apple Snails, baby dolls, laptops found during biennial draining of the San Antonio River

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At the corner of Alamo and Commerce streets, a dumpster is packed with folding chairs, fiesta beads, a stroller, Christmas lights, a baby doll and a toy gorilla. All are covered in dried mud and silt, and all were removed from the San Antonio River downtown this week.

The San Antonio Public Works Department on Monday began draining parts of the river that flow through downtown for cleaning and maintenance, digging deep to find trash that has accumulated below the surface since the last time the river was drained two years ago. The project — which spans the downtown river loop, the extension and a segment of the main channel — will continue until this weekend, when public works will refill the river.

While the water is low, the city will check the floodgates, inspect sensors and gauges that monitor water levels, and make repairs. At the same time, the San Antonio River Authority will remove non-native invasive species, plant native aquatic plants and temporarily move native species until the project is completed.

People work Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, in the River Center Mall extension of the drained San Antonio River as the city of San Antonio and the San Antonio River Authority perform cleaning and maintenance on the downtown attraction.

People work Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, in the River Center Mall extension of the drained San Antonio River as the city of San Antonio and the San Antonio River Authority perform cleaning and maintenance on the downtown attraction.

William Luther /San Antonio Express-News

“The River Walk area is world famous, and we feel a great responsibility to keep it beautiful and attractive to residents, as well as tourists,” said Nefi Garza, assistant director to Public Works. “One of the best ways to do this is to periodically drain the river.”

The biennial river draining is normally done during winter so that it doesn’t disrupt more active tourist periods and to avoid the stench that would accompany warmer temperatures.

Chris Vaughn, a senior aquatic biologist at SARA, said that every two years is a good frequency for biological river maintenance. The SARA team on Monday walked through the drained areas from Pearl to Lexington Avenue, looking for invasive species. Before that, SARA had moved native fish — such as large-mouth bass, western…

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