Water and History in San Antonio
by Shannon Keith
In celebration of Inter American Water Day on October 1, Special Collections has put on display a selection of items from its collections concerning the impact of water on San Antonio’s history and development. The exhibit features rare books, newspapers, and items from the William and Fay Sinkin Papers and the San Antonio River Authority Records.
The semi-arid climate and inconsistent rainfall in Central Texas made building established settlements impossible without irrigation systems. Before the arrival of the Spanish, groups of Coahuiltecan people practiced a nomadic lifestyle that allowed them to survive without agriculture. When the Spanish established the first mission in San Antonio in the early 18th Century, they built water distribution systems, called acequias, to carry water from the springs and rivers to the fields to supplement the unpredictable rainfall.
The San Antonio area doesn’t only face periodic droughts and water-shortages; it is also one of the most flood-prone regions of the country. The Balcones Heights, located north of the city, forces warm, moist air from the Gulf upwards causing heavy rains. Since this region has only shallow soil, rainwater gathers in channels and stream beds rather than being absorbed into the ground. The result is an area where moderate rainfall causes devastating floods.
We would love for you to see the exhibit in person, but if you are not able to come, here are some of the highlights…