SAN MARCOS, TEXAS — Southwest Texas State University and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department today announced a partnership to create a major educational and research facility devoted to aquifers, rivers and aquatic systems in Texas.
Work is scheduled to begin next summer on the Texas Rivers Center at San Marcos Springs. The facility will be constructed on the grounds of the Aquarena Center on the SWT campus.
“Together, SWT and Texas Parks and Wildlife will create a place where people can learn about the state‘s most important natural resource ? its water. And as part of our end of this innovative partnership, we will create a water trust that will ensure future stream flow in the San Marcos River for its downstream users,” said SWT President Jerome Supple.
SWT will place into the Texas Water Trust a portion of its water rights from the San Marcos River headwaters to guarantee a continued stream flow for the Guadalupe River Basin and the San Antonio Bay estuary downstream. SWT will donate 66 percent of its hydroelectric water rights and 35 percent of its consumptive water rights ? totaling more than 40,000 acre-feet annually ? to the trust. SWT received those water rights when it purchased the Aquarena property in 1994.
The Texas Rivers Center at San Marcos Springs will help educate the public about aquatic ecology, serve as a research center and work to protect and restore the ecology, archaeology and history of the Aquarena property.
“Rivers are the life-blood of Texas, and this project will restore one of our most important natural and cultural resource sites to a more pristine condition, in the process making it a beacon for research, education and recreation,” said Andrew Sansom, TPW executive director. “An important challenge now, one that I believe we can meet, is to raise the remaining funds to fulfill this vision.”
SWT and TPW have secured $3.5 million of the estimated $16 million needed to construct the facility. That money has come from state and federal sources. Planners are currently working to raise the remainder, much of which will come from private and foundation support.
The nonprofit Parks and Wildlife Foundation of Texas Inc. is raising private funds for the project, an effort led by former TPW Commissioner Chuck Nash of San Marcos. This is connected with the Lone Star Legacy campaign to build new conservation facilities and set up operating endowments for every TPW site.
“When you consider the long-term needs of Texas ? both in socio-economic and environmental terms ? there can be no cause more worthy than protecting our rivers,” said Nash. “Texas needs this project.”
The center will be constructed in phases. The first phase will involve the renovation of the Aquarena Springs Inn and restoration of the peninsula on the Aquarena property.
The renovated inn will provide office space for all currently existing SWT programs housed at Aquarena Center, including the Office of Continuing Education. Additional office space will be established for the Center for Freshwater Policy and Research and the Center for Nature and Heritage Tourism. TPW functions housed in the renovated inn will include the Rivers Study Program and the Aquatic Education Program. The building will also house administrative offices, classrooms, interpretive exhibits and a gift shop.
Also during the first phase of construction, existing buildings, roads and parking lots on the Aquarena peninsula will be removed and about six acres of the site will become Festival Meadows. The area will receive extensive revegetation and ecological restoration and will serve as space for outdoor events. More than 100,000 square feet of impervious cover will be removed during this portion of the project. None of the existing peninsula offices will be displaced until the Inn renovation provides new space for them.
Eventually, the Texas Rivers Center at San Marcos Springs will include exhibits to trace the path of rainwater as it falls on the Edwards Plateau, enters the limestone aquifer and eventually resurfaces through springs and flows downriver to the sea. The center will also incorporate existing endangered species exhibits and aquaria, and Aquarena‘s fleet of glass-bottom boats will continue to operate.
The Texas Rivers Center at San Marcos Springs is patterned after TPW‘s Sea Center Texas in Lake Jackson and Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. Those centers are devoted to lake and ocean ecologies. But only the center in San Marcos will have an affiliation with a university.
The center will be built at the headwaters of the San Marcos River at the site of San Marcos Springs, the second-largest spring system in Texas. The springs produce an average of 150 million gallons of water daily.
SWT purchased the Aquarena Springs resort theme park in 1994. Shortly thereafter, the university began conversion of the property from entertainment to educational use.
Already under way on the property is the Wetlands Restoration Project, an effort to reintroduce native species of plants and animals to the property and educate the public on the importance of natural wetlands. Texas Rivers Center planners say the two projects should dovetail nicely.