By Madelyn Weirich
A North American river otter was spotted at Spring Lake in San Marcos, signaling hope for community river advocates working to ensure the water’s quality and sustainability.
In a Facebook post on Oct. 12, the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment shared photos of the otter poking its head above the water. Dive Coordinator Mike Flores spotted the playful creature while exploring the Spring Lake area.
Otters are some of the first river-dwellers to react to the presence of pollutants, so to see them thriving at Spring Lake is a good sign of the river’s water quality.
Meadows Center Communication Manager, Anna Huff, explains that the recent dry period throughout the region in combination with regular pollutants puts a strain on the river.
“[Seeing the otters] was a little bit of a surprise just because, you know, we are facing a pretty heavy drought right now and the spring flow is pretty low,” Huff said. “And so that does show that some of the habitat conservation measures that the city and the community are enacting are really making a difference even through the dry time.”
Stormwater runoff containing pesticides, microplastics, oils and other contaminants causes otters to search for a new habitat, labeling the creatures as an indicator species. However, while otters can relocate to find a better environment, other endangered species like Texas Wild Rice depend on the San Marcos River’s water quality for survival.
To help protect the quality of the San Marcos River, organizations like the San Marcos River Society (SMRF), work to involve the community through projects and political advocacy. According to Executive Director, Virginia Parker, one of the organization’s goals is to advocate for higher treatment standards for the water that developers are allowed to discard in natural waterways.
“We want to make sure that the effluent that these wastewater treatment plants are dumping into our creeks and rivers is cleaner than what they are requesting,” Parker said.
Through the River Ranger program, SMRF also trains citizens to become certified water quality testers. The group conducts monthly tests at 30 sites across the San Marcos and Blanco rivers to measure indicators of water quality. This way, when the numbers are not up to par, they know to take action.
Opportunities to get involved with community projects supporting the river can be found on SMRF’s and the Meadows Center’s websites.
Written by: Danielle De Lucia