The "Blue Hole"

The "Blue Hole"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Faith in the Workplace

Faith in the Workplace

Last Sunday, I was Lector in church and read aloud the following passage from Paul's Letter to the Ephesians.

The First Lesson—Ephesians 5:8-14
For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.  Live as children of light--for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.  Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.  Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

This bit of scripture spoke directly to a situation confronting me in my place of work at the Headwaters.  The situation is one of those ethical dilemmas that confront us in our everyday life, except this one was a really big one involving very powerful forces.  For some time I'd been asking myself:  do I avert my eyes, close my mind, squelch my heart, avoid controversy, be silent and try to ignore the consequences?  Or do I use what I know, find courage, act on what I believe is right, speak my truth, risk making enemies, and in the process, put other peoples' lives into turmoil along with my own?

What to do?  Answer:
"Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness,
but instead expose them."

My job as Headwaters Director is rooted in incarnational spirituality:  the Incarnate Word, the Word made flesh; God's Word lived out in the flesh and blood of our daily lives.  The Incarnate Word Sisters work through prayer and action to bring God's healing love into the world.  This is their founding charism (or spiritual character) and it permeates every ministry they have ever founded.
Sometimes, the spiritual turns political, and then even judicial. 
And when it does, look out.

Last week, the Headwaters Coalition with the support of the Incarnate Word Sisters joined the River Road Neighborhood Association in a legal attempt to restrain the San Antonio City Council from voting on the construction of a massive storm sewer in the San Antonio River in Brackenridge Park below the Hildebrand Bridge.  Council's agenda included a $12 million contract to begin construction as soon as Mulberry Street is reopened to through traffic, possibly later this month (April).  Judge David Berchelmann denied our request for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), but only because he did not believe he had authority to interfere with the legislative process when no immediate “irreparable harm” would ensue from the vote itself.  Fair enough.

The City attorneys, the Judge and our own counsel, led by trial attorney Matt Wymer and attorney Bebb Francis, then agreed on the spot to a Temporary Injunction hearing set for Monday, April 11, just ten days hence.  A Temporary Injunction (TI) hearing is an evidentiary hearing with witnesses, but the Judge's decision regarding a TI centers on whether it is essential to maintain the status quo (i.e., no construction) while a trial on the merits is pending.  If successful, a TI would temporarily prevent construction on the storm sewer until the case is heard.  Success at the later trial would result in a Permanent Injunction, stopping the Hildebrand outfall from ever being built.

And that, my friends, is our #1 goal in all this:
to keep the giant storm sewer
out of the sacred headwaters
of the San Antonio River.

A panoramic view of the San Antonio River at its northernmost point in Brackenridge Park where the city wants to put two 6x9 foot box culverts with a 70-foot concrete wall in this narrow, natural, historically very sensitive part of the river.
An existing 48" drainage conduit can be seen next to the Hildebrand Bridge at left.
Miraflores Park, a federally protected National Historic Place, is in the background.
Remnants of the old Spanish colonial acequia system are just behind the viewer.

This is one of those historic moments
when as a community we can choose...

to hold on to something truly unique, something ennobling to our spirits and fitting to our San Antonio heritage, something that lifts up and cherishes our river all the way from its physical and spiritual source to its living Mission churches in the south, something that honors our history, protects our central public park, restores our river's natural beauty, and preserves the public trust.

On the other hand, if we act with fear, we can choose to let it go, to stand aside while a destructive force is loosed on and in our river at its most vulnerable, historically rich, sacred location in the headwaters basin.

To hold on to and work together to realize the vision of a final “Spiritual Reach of the San Antonio River” is a golden opportunity that will be lost.  It is an opportunity to complete with an exclamation point ( ! ) the historic community-wide effort to restore our relationship with our river, still the lifeblood of our community.  It is an opportunity to “put the head on the headwaters” of the San Antonio River Improvements Project, and to connect physically, spiritually, symbolically for all times a historic vitally important institution in San Antonio –the Incarnate Word Sisters – with the rest of the city, by way of the river!  The same river that brought the Incarnate Word Sisters to San Antonio in the first place.

How? A very broken relationship between the citizens of San Antonio and their life-giving river led to outbreaks of cholera (water borne disease associated with sewage) that killed hundreds of San Antonio's early citizens.  One of those cholera epidemics brought the founding Sisters to San Antonio in 1869 to establish the city’s first infirmary, which became our first hospital and which is now CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System.

The Sisters, through the Headwaters, have now offered a place, a project and the encouragement to help us heal our broken relationship with nature and the river
at its physical and spiritual source.

Map used at Visioning Workshop on the Spiritual Reach
June 25, 2010

The vision for a Spiritual Reach of the San Antonio River acknowledges the historical significance and long-standing relationship of the human community to this river, for good and for bad. It celebrates the historical significance and long-standing relationship of the Incarnate Word Sisters to the City of San Antonio.  The Spiritual Reach vision – if given the opportunity to be well executed -- benefits everyone:  the river at its sacred source, the community at large, and the Sisters and all their ministries at the "Head of the River": university, retirement center and nature sanctuary.

To squander this evolving opportunity with a misguided ugly potentially illegal drainage project in a revered part of the river is intolerable.  We will all live to regret it if the project goes forward.  This is what this challenge is all about for us.

And if our legal challenge is successful,
the river will be protected, and that sacred public trust
between government and citizens
will be preserved.

These are both values worth standing up for.  Even when the cost of doing so is high.  The city’s Hildebrand drainage project is quite simply not the bond project voters approved.  Not even close.  To let it go unchallenged is to risk grave injury to the river at its headwaters in our public park -- and to give carte blanche to the City for any and all of our bond committee-vetted and citizen-approved bonds.  That we believe is a very dangerous precedent.

We hope you will stand with us in standing down
this unfortunate mistake.

Come watch and be a supportive presence.
No eligibility requirements necessary!

Come to the old County Courthouse on
Monday, April 11 by 9:00 am
and join us for the hearing in
Judge Berchelmann's courtroom.

So what's the Alternative?

So, what if the Hildebrand drainage project is permanently enjoined (stopped)?  

We believe the City will find even better alternatives for meeting our community's needs.  Where one window closes another opens.  We would suggest for starters:
  • Un-bundle the street and utility projects from the (illegal) drainage project;
  • Fund the desirable add-on projects (street reconstruction, under-grounding of utilities) on schedule using 2007 bond savings, or other city money;
  • Revise the Broadway Corridor - Phase IIIA drainage project to take stormwater down Broadway to the river at Carnahan (as originally intended) or better yet to the river at Tuleta, 0.10 mile further south; and
  • Plan to extend the Catalpa-Pershing drainage channel up to the river at Tuleta as part of the 2012 bond program (something the City has already committed to doing).

We believe the City can design a stormwater system that would drain
 the 100-year flood event off the Broadway-Hildebrand intersection
 according to the original limits of the bond while
not sacrificing the river at its headwaters 
nor risking irreparable harm 
to sensitive historic resources in and between 
Miraflores and Brackenridge Park.  

Take a look at the two drainage project alternatives the city considered (the only two).  Here is the original bond project as approved by the voters:

Note: full title and scope of bond project does not mention Hildebrand.  
Broadway Corridor - Phase IIIA (Carnahan to 150 feet north of Davis Court)

Now look at the redirected Broadway Corridor - Phase IIIA bond project:  
the "Hildebrand alternative."  

NOTE: Yellow lines coming down Broadway south of Hildebrand show how the project drains water from this southeast corner of Broadway-Hildebrand (at Broadway Tower) and back-flows north ( ! ) into the Hildebrand drainage culverts where it eventually dumps into the SAR. The stormwater from north of Hildebrand makes a hard right angle turn, as the City Engineer says, to follow the existing flow pattern.

It does not take an engineer's certificate to see that these are not the same project in scope or intent.

With a modest refinement to the original voter-approved bond, the city could avoid any impact to the Witte property at the existing Carnahan drainage channel by extending the new drainage culverts one-tenth of a mile down to Tuleta at the lower south end of the Witte property. To do so would involve only one landowner, the Witte, aka the City!  

From the river at Tuleta, a long sought pilot channel -- perhaps as a 2012 bond project -- could divert up to 1,500 cubic feet per second of flood water to the Catalpa-Pershing drainage ditch where it would then flow into the big tunnel at Josephine, typically arriving before the flow coming down the meandering main stem of the river through the Park.  This sequences the timing of peak flows entering the tunnel thereby improving the system's overall capacity to carry that 100-year storm event.  Such a holistic approach would not only address the problem of street flooding at the Broadway-Hildebrand intersection in a manner consistent with the voter-approved bond, but also  help remove valuable property and homes from the 100-year floodplain in the River Road neighborhood and along Broadway.

Design of pilot channel and series of ponds connecting the Catalpa-
Pershing drainage channel (at far left) to the river at Tuleta.

You can find descriptions and technical details relating to most of these ideas in the City's (or County's or River Authority's or River Improvement Project's) own engineering studies, reports, and conceptual designs.  The point is there are other, much better options than the hugely destructive one at Hildebrand.  

Doing this step-wise approach towards the holistic solution of stormwater drainage and flood control along Broadway would leave the pending street improvements on Hildebrand without an immediate source of funding.  But please remember that the street improvements were only incidental to the drainage project if the City is to be believed.  Broadway drainage  bonds are after all the current funding source for the now desirable Hildebrand street  improvements (for which there was no 2007 bond project).

The Headwaters Coalition and the Incarnate Word Sisters want to see the street improvements at Broadway and Hildebrand go forward on or near the current schedule, if at all possible.  We drive that intersection every day and know it could use help, but it is not essential  that the street work happens right now.  To get the street improvements now  as part of the city's redirected (possibly illegal) Hildebrand drainage project means sacrificing the river at the top of Brackenridge Park:  at the northern terminus of the current San Antonio River Improvements Project!  

And that is simply not acceptable.  

If the City cannot allocate funds to continue the street improvements on schedule -- and we believe they can* -- we may just have to wait for the 2012 bonds.  

* remember the impressive $47 million in bond savings the City Manager is managing!

What we mean by "headwaters"

Consider these definitions we use for "headwaters": 

headwaters (with a little "h") – generically, the upper tributaries of a river; the source of a stream or river; specifically, the area or place where the San Antonio River begins.

headwater spring – the historic mainspring called the San Antonio Spring, or Blue Hole, once the 6th largest spring in Texas; described in the 1850’s as a fountain spring, giving birth to the San Antonio River: “The whole river gushes up in one sparkling burst from the earth,” according to Frederick Law Olmstead who visited the area in 1857.

The Blue Hole, or San Antonio Spring
(Note the blueish tint that gives the Blue Hole its name.)

For thousands of years,
Native Americans have called this
once magnificent spring
Yanaguana,” which means
“up-flowing waters of the spirit.”

headwaters basin -- the spring-filled basin surrounding the Blue Hole with many smaller and medium size springs contributing flow to the river at its source; contains pre-historic deposits and artifacts dating back 12,000 years indicating a very long history of human presence; generally includes the lower Olmos Basin, all of the Incarnate Word property (congregation, sanctuary, retirement center, and university), the Episcopal Diocese’s Cathedral Park, 200 Patterson Condominiums, parts of the Alamo Heights neighborhood, and the upper end of Brackenridge Park.

A Field of Springs

Adapted from Gunnar Brune's Springs of Texas
The Blue Hole is the farthest red dot to the east.
See more where this came from on Gregg Eckhart's Edwards Aquifer website

Headwaters Sanctuary – that centerpiece of the headwaters basin that the Incarnate Word Sisters established as a nature sanctuary in 2008 when they deeded 60 acres of land including the Blue Hole to the nonprofit Headwaters Coalition, Inc., a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. It is bounded by Olmos Creek and Dam, Highway 281, and envelopes the UIW athletic complex.

The Headwaters Sanctuary (blue line) is bounded by Olmos Creek and Dam
and surrounds the UIW athletic complex.

Now you know:  we never suggested there was a controversial storm sewer planned to outfall at the headwater spring (the Blue Hole).  However, there is a very controversial, over-sized storm sewer -- with all its pollution, trash and high volume, high velocity stormwater -- scheduled for construction very soon in the Brackenridge Park part of the headwaters basin. This fact should have us all alarmed!

Stay tuned!