Let’s take the trash (out of the Headwaters)

By Helen Ballew


Have you ever noticed the big pile-up of trash near the Quarry Market at Jones Maltsburger? Or seen all those plastic bags caught up in trees just upstream?

Maybe you’ve noticed the trash pileups down the road just below St. Luke’s Episcopal Church or all throughout Olmos Basin Park along Devine Road. It’s a trash problem all right. And it is a problem throughout our urban landscape where litter gets caught up in floodwaters and washes downstream to choke points such as these.

No one sets out to litter our landscape, but it does happen.

Even here at Incarnate Word, we have a trash problem. Trash is carried down to us in floodwaters along Olmos Creek below the dam. It is blown in with the wind. It is spilled out of trashcans, and it is dropped on the ground by what, back in the ‘70s, we called “litterbugs.”   Thoughtless behavior, not malicious.

Trash is an urban pollution problem, but is one within our grasp to solve — if we all pitch in.

Part of our local problem is that trash from throughout the 34-square mile Olmos Creek watershed is carried in floodwaters down towards the Olmos Dam in the area known as the Olmos Basin. It accumulates in several locations in the Olmos Basin, and backs up behind the Olmos Dam. Much of it then washes out from the dam onto property owners downstream, including Incarnate Word. Our neighbors, the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas and the 200 Patterson Condominiums, are also on the receiving end of this water-borne trash.

Early in 2010, our upstream and downstream neighbors banded together to try and address the problem rather than just complain about it. The San Antonio River Authority (SARA) responded to our citizen concerns by forming an advisory committee. Representatives of the City of Alamo Heights, Bexar County, City of San Antonio, San Antonio River Authority, Texas Department of Transportation, Episcopal Diocese of West Texas, Headwaters Coalition at Incarnate Word, Hondondo Trails, Keep San Antonio Beautiful, San Antonio Audubon, 200 Patterson Condominiums and private citizens all shared concerns, observations, documentation and recommendations regarding the best way to address the trash problem without duplicating any existing efforts.

The result of these initial efforts was the formation of a new organization called the Olmos Basin Alliance. As a first tactic, the alliance has begun an all-out publicity campaign to help us ALL be more mindful of how we manage our trash. The campaign is called “Good Neighbors to Nature” and is reaching out to citizens, businesses and schools in the Olmos Basin with its message. The message is: let’s all be good neighbors to nature and be more mindful of what we do with our trash. Frankly, it’s a message for all of us who live in a watershed. (P.S. We all do.)

The first e-newsletter of the alliance was recently published and in it they offer several suggestions on how to be a “Good Neighbor to Nature.”

If you’d like to see the e-newsletter along with three very cool public service announcements put out by the alliance, go to www.Facebook.com/OlmosBasinAlliance. And let us know what you think about this new initiative to help us all “take out the trash.”


  • If an outdoor trashcan is full, don’t pile more loose trash on top.
  • Don’t set trash down next to the trashcan. Loose trash just blows away.
  • Never throw trash out of your car window.
  • Never set trash down in parking lots.
  • Don’t even think about tossing loose trash in the back of a pickup truck.
  • Use recyclable bags every time you shop. Bag the plastic.
  • Do your part. Don’t litter. Spread the word about being a “good neighbor to nature.”
  • Like the Olmos Basin Alliance Facebook fan page and watch the short videos found there.


E-mail Ballew, executive director of the Headwaters Coalition, a ministry of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, at helen.ballew@amormeus.org





Leave a Reply