Ownership of land along San Marcos River could go from state to city via bill

A state Senate bill proposed this morning would transfer ownership of the bed and land along the banks of the San Marcos River within city limits from the state to the city.

A state Senate bill proposed this morning would transfer ownership of the bed and land along the banks of the San Marcos River within city limits from the state to the city.

This morning, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, prefiled the first 41 Senate bills for the upcoming state legislative session, one of which deals directly with San Marcos.

Senate Bill 71, or the "bed and banks" bill, would transfer the ownership of the land in the riverbed and along the banks of the San Marcos River located within city limits from the state to the city. This would allow for the city to better protect the river and the wildlife that calls it home, said Kristi Wyatt, city of San Marcos director of communications and intergovernmental relations.

“[The bill would] help us to make everything run smoother and allow us to do the things we do on a day-to-day basis more efficiently,” she said.

The Edwards Aquifer is home to seven endangered species, such as the fountain darter, Texas wild rice and the Texas blind salamander. According to a release, they were placed on the federal Endangered Species List because they are vulnerable to reduced spring flows caused by drought and pumping. Wyatt said uneducated people can also pose a danger.

One issue the city runs into when trying to protect the river is that because the bed and banks of the river belong to the state, the city cannot enforce laws that would protect the river and the creatures that live in it.

“Everybody that lives here know that we have a lot of endangered species we work really hard to protect. Sometimes it’s hard to protect them because we don’t have jurisdiction.” Wyatt said. “If people are going in and pulling [Texas wild rice] up, it’s not within our jurisdiction to ticket them or stop them.”

Owning the land would also simplify the process for making repairs in and along the river, such as access points, Wyatt said.

According to the bill, ownership of the property automatically reverts to the state if the city fails to provide for the protection of health and general welfare, recreation, beautification and civic improvement, or if the city sells any or all of the property.

“We have no intention of selling the land; that’s not something we would want to do. Our intention is to protect it. That’s why we’re seeking [jurisdiction],” Wyatt said. “We want to protect the river and everything in it.”

The state would also retain oil, gas and other mineral rights, Wyatt said.

The 85th Texas Legislature will convene Jan. 10. If passed, SB 71 will take immediate effect if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members of the House and the Senate. If it were to pass but not receive two-thirds of the vote, it would go into effect Sept. 1.


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