Spanish Water, Anglo Water: Early Development in San Antonio

Spanish Water, Anglo Water: Early Development in San Antonio

Spanish Water, Anglo Water: Early Development in San Antonio

Spanish Water, Anglo Water: Early Development in San Antonio


In 1718, the Spanish settled San Antonio, partly because of its prolific and breathtaking springs--at that time, one of the largest natural spring systems in the known world. The abundance of fresh water, coupled with the Spanish colonial legal concept that water was to be equitably shared by all settlers, led to the building of the system of acequias (canals or ditches) within the settlement. The system is one of the earliest and perhaps most extensive municipal water systems in North America.

This book offers a meticulous chronicling of the origins and often-contentious development of water rights in San Antonio from its Spanish settlement through the beginning of the twentieth century.


Water helped ancient man learn those first difficult lessons about the
rights of others and responsibility to a larger society. Even the most
rudimentary irrigation system required organization, discipline, coop
eration, and a measure of social cohesion. Mutual need begets mutual
aid. Notions of sharing, of equity, of compromise, and of the common
good first floated precariously on this liquid foundation to be later
cemented in philosophical thought and codified law.

MICHAEL C. MEYER, Water in the Hispanic Southwest

San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the United States, has thrived on its “liquid foundation” of water, the San Antonio River. Today the river, through its famed Riverwalk alone, contributes $1 billion to the economy annually. A large portion of the tourism and convention trade is based around the Riverwalk area, and the hospitality industry’s economic impact on the city was estimated to be $7.2 billion in 2006. San Antonio’s water has always been a significant factor in the city’s economy, and San Antonio itself has long been central in Texas history. “It has been said that every Texan has two cities: his own and San Antonio. The history of Texas for a century and a half was largely the history of San Antonio.” These apt words were written in 1949 by prolific local historian and observer Boyce House.

The Spanish chose the location of San Antonio to settle in 1718 because of its fresh water resources and its strategic position between the Rio Grande and their settlements in East Texas, the sole purpose of which was to defend Spanish lands from French incursions. Above all else, San Antonio owes its first century and a half of existence to the copious amount of pure water easily available to its earliest settlers from several major springs. The abundance of fresh water in itself did not ensure the establishment of a viable and lasting community; of equal importance was Spanish technological expertise in irrigation and water distribution systems, accompanied by fair management . . .

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