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Rivers Center puts wet side of Texas under looking glass


San Marcos Daily Record (04/27/2006)

What's old is new at the headwaters of the San Marcos River.

Texas State University and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on Wednesday reopened the renovated hotel and office building at Aquarena Center as an educational and research facility devoted to Texas water.

The facility will study springs and aquifers and the river watersheds that feed them as well as the lakes, bays and estuaries into which rivers flow.

As part of the project, Texas State is depositing 33,108 acre feet of San Marcos River headwaters water rights the university owns into the Texas Water Trust in perpetuity.

A draft water rights permit to place the water into the trust has been prepared by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, with a final permit expected soon.

The Texas Water Trust was created by the Texas Legislature in 1997 as a way for water rights holders to voluntarily protect river instream flows, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, or bay and estuary inflows.

“This unprecedented partnership between the university and the department has resulted in a kind of rivers incubator, with scholars, researchers and biologists from Texas Parks and Wildlife, the National Park Service and the university all working together in the same building,” Texas State President Denise M. Trauth said.

“It marks a wonderful new era for a building that has historical significance for San Marcos, Texas State and Texas. The partnership is evolving toward permanent protection for one of the largest springs in the United States and a state of the art environmental education program for rivers and springs...,” Trauth said.

A master plan was created in 1999 for the Texas Rivers Center, located on the grounds of the Aquarena Center on the Texas State campus. Project design began in 2000. Renovation work began in 2003 and was recently completed.

The Texas Rivers Center at San Marcos Springs will serve as a research center and help educate the public about aquatic ecology and the role that water plays in residents' daily lives.

The former inn on the Aquarena property has been renovated and now provides space for exhibits on water resources and offices for the River Systems Institute, National Park Service, and TPWD Freshwater Resources Program.

The site also includes interpretive venues with aquaria, glass bottom boats and a floating wetlands boardwalk. Future work includes continued restoration of the old theme park to a more natural state, plus development of additional water resource exhibits and interpretive space and water related research space.

San Marcos Springs on the property is the second-largest spring system in Texas, producing an average of 150 million gallons of water daily.

Texas State purchased the Aquarena Springs resort theme park in 1994.