Downtowners Dutifully Delve into Duck Doody*

In “The Two Stories,” a video installation commissioned by artpace, Alenjandro Cesarco describes the state of a statue of a women who possibly succumbed to the same fate that awaits the heads of virtually all outdoor sculptures:

Perhaps it just stopped taking itself as seriously as it used to and now was just playing with the pigeons.

But in San Antonio, pigeons don’t restrict their discharge to statues, they endanger the fragile ecosystem of the San Antonio River.  River Walk Watershed Alliance, or RWWA (Should that be pronounced Rah-Wah?), to the rescue! 

Representatives of the Paseo del Rio Association, Downtown Alliance, Downtown Residents’ Association, Bexar County, City of San Antonio, San Antonio Water System and San Antonio River Authority have forged this powerful alliance to reduce bacteria levels in the River Walk area. 

It is true San Antonio still smarts from the 2006 sting reiterated by WOAI’s Randy Beamer

Who can forget this Mark Cuban line? “We can kick their butts all the way back to that muddy *%$ thing they call a River Walk.”

But this is no knee-jerk reaction to ongoing insults slung against our river by the owner of the Dallas Mavericks.  (Shh!  Don’t let Mark Cuban know that someone let their year-long lock on expire last month.)

Certainly Bob Buchanan, the Paseo del Rio Association’s representative for the alliance, has been crying “pigeon poop pollutes” for years.  Nothing used to set his blood pressure percolating faster than watching patrons at The Kangaroo Court crumble their complimentary Saltines into pigeon feed.  Pigeons would brazenly strut right into the restaurant as though waiting to be shown to their table.  And I don’t think anyone has ever computed the annual loss to River Walk restaurants caused by replacing drinks successfully targeted by flying pigeons or grackles, but it is probably a significant figure.

Rah-Wah is not targeting grackles at this time.  Although grackles are prodigious poopers, they dine elsewhere, in fields outside of the city.  Huge flocks gather on telephone wires west of the Express-News in the mornings, as though waiting for the morning edition or to find out what the Star says about Brad and Angelina before heading north on Broadway.  Years ago, Dick’s Last Resort had targets printed on graduation caps to protect patrons, but that was before Park Rangers fired blanks at dusk to encourage grackle relocation. 

We recently found the Plaza Mayor in Merida experiences a similar grackle problem every evening, but having police fire blanks in a park in Mexico would not be wise.  If we return to Merida, we were thinking of adapting Dick’s idea to market to plaza peddlers.  Only we would improve the coverage to protect the shoulder, back and chest areas by attaching gameboards to the top of the caps.  The whole thing could then be folded up for tidily carrying under one’s arm to be cleansed at home and recycled another evening. 

Someone really needs to come up with a campaign to convince grackles that they could shorten their commute by sleeping in trees closer to the fields where they eat.  That would probably prove simpler than convincing humans to end urban sprawl by living near where they work (Whoops, yet another digression). 

Although at one point, David Uhler of the Express-News mistakenly lay blame for the river’s pollution on the rhinoceros, the guilty hippopotami of the San Antonio Zoo no longer relieve themselves riverside.  The zoo’s Africa Live section includes a hippo house right next to a 24-hour filtration house servicing the hippos and the neighboring crocodiles. 

The zoo’s website also mentions the residency of the mighty dung beetle in its Africa Live exhibit.  According to A&M entomologists, one species of the appropriately-named beetle:

Onthophagus gazella Fabricius, was introduced by USDA scientists in the 1970s and is now common throughout the state.  In parts of Texas, they remove 80 percent of the cattle droppings.

Removing the hippos’ contribution to river pollution must be a major step forward.  But Rah-Wah now is targeting the birds – pigeons, ducks and (please not them) even herons – and the enablers, the families who joyfully feed them – via a major public relations campaign that is far from subtle:

The birds in the River Walk area are there because people feed them.  Unfortunately, too many birds mean too much bird poop in the river.  The River Walk Watershed Alliance (RWWA) asks you to please not feed the birds while you’re enjoying the River Walk.

The mallard population in the bend has exploded, and I know from experience what ducks do.  During my brief experimentation with trying to be a country girl, we had ducks.  And everywhere we walked, the ducks were sure to go.  They would follow us onto the front porch as we tried to enjoy a margarita and the sunset, and we had to hose the whole thing down five minutes later.  They were cute poopers, though, and I always have been haunted by the possibility their relocation to a tank on Curtis Gunn‘s ranch might have made them raccoon food.

Rah-Wah’s battle is uphill because the ducks and their continual production of more ducklings are so, so cute.  And the food is right there, readily available at every table – a basket of bread, a warmer full of flour tortillas and more tostadas than anyone could possible eat (Okay, except me.  I never leave a chip untouched unless they have shorted me on the hot sauce.). 

It is not just tourists.  Even away from the fish and duck food supplied by the restaurants, River Walk Watershed residents can be spotted toting their stale leftovers to feed the cute little ducks.  A favorite spot for King William families is the landing off of Guenther, right under the window of the River Authority’s jefe, Suzanne Scott, a Mud Queen actually charged with a message to deliver to her constituents.  The ducks waddle right up the ramp to get the goods.  Good luck stopping this tradition.

But I beg Rah-Wah:  You can pick on the pigeons and the cute ducks, but please let us keep the herons.  They make morning river walks amazing, as they crack open our river’s giant crawdads for breakfast.  And the herons politely sleep in their “apartment trees,” located just before the Blue Star spillway that aerates the water.   I have convinced myself the herons are only here because the water quality has improved. 

Captain Kangaroo, please take the herons out of the ads!

*Doody, the present favorite scatological term of Sarah Silverman, who instigated a spoof that goofed to get May Kadoody elected Mayor of her tv-land.

March 26 Update:  Your chance to affect the battle plans of the Rah-Wah’s Duck Doody Defenders is on Monday, March 29, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 5 to 7 p.m. at the Central Library.  Rah-Wah is seeking public  input on “education outreach campaign concepts” (Does this post count?) and draft BMPs (Bumps?), translated for non-bureaucrats as Best Management Practices, within the River Walk Watershed.

Note Added June 12:  San Antonians certainly have endured worse than hippo-sized pollution in the San Antonio River.  The San Antonio Public Library’s Texana Collection remembers this through a July 1937 news story:

Pollution of San Antonio’s drinking water through a faulty plumbing connection, which permitted waste water from the bear pit and monkey island in Brackenridge Zoo to flow into the mains, has been corrected.

Update Added on July 15:  Rah-Wah launches campaign.

Update Added on July 25Express-News editorial:  “Tossing food into the river attracts wildlife….”  Pretty tempting, particularly when baskets of bread and chips are on the table in front of you.  But editorial urges restraint to attain goal of a river safe for swimming.

Update Added on March 23, 2011: River’s getting cleaner. Swimming in the future?

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