Image: San Antonio River Walk
JERRY LARA  /  AP
Joseph Chavarria paints the table at the Republic of Texas Restaurant along the River Walk in San Antonio.
By
updated 1/4/2011 12:05:46 PM ET 2011-01-04T17:05:46

Henry Rymers hawked cheap eats Monday at his restaurant along San Antonio's famed River Walk, but his coveted waterfront tables had an unappetizing view: the river freshly drained, filthy with trash and mud, and prowled by dirt-covered workers collecting sunken garbage.

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"It's a miracle we didn't close today," said Rymers, a seating host at the Lone Star Café.

San Antonio is cleaning the river gunk out of the River Walk, draining the busiest quarter-mile stretch of the iconic Texas tourist destination as part of a historic, sediment-removing scrub down that is far more thorough than the city's usual annual cleanup.

The city plans to finish removing more than 6,000 tons of water-clouding sediment from the winding downtown waterway over the next two weeks. Muck-hoisting cranes closed usually busy streets packed with tourists, and loud bulldozers and pumps rumbled in the riverbed outside lavish hotels and white-tablecloth restaurants.

Few are around to notice the commotion. The city cleans the River Walk each year during the predictable lull of early and chilly January, when the last Alamo Bowl fans and New Year's Eve revelers have left town and the convention center is without a big event.

They're missing a bigger tidy-up than normal: city officials said the project marks the first time that sediment has been removed from the River Walk on this scale, getting rid of the dirt and silt stirred up by barges and boats.

The result will be cleaner, clearer water in the "Historic Bend" swath of the river at the heart of downtown, said Paula Stallcup, the city's downtown operations director.

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"When I started this job four years ago, this was something we never attempted to address," Stallcup said of the sediment removal. "Probably because the question has never been asked."

Crews began removing sediment last year along a quieter portion of the River Walk and hope to finish the project this year. Efforts to improve water quality have included boarding up a bridge where a colony of bats made their home — and a mess beneath them.

On Monday, three city workers in rubber boots dragged garden hoes along the drained river bottom that is normally a five-foot deep waterway. They scooped up cameras that tourists long ago helplessly watched sink, silverware from waterside Tex-Mex restaurants and beads from any number of floating parades. One worker fished out a tire wall and chucked it onto the riverbank.

Outside the Lone Star Café, there was no wait and practically no potential customers for Rymers to lure out of the gloomy, 50-degree afternoon. When a man finally walked up to request a table for one, another hostess joked that he better leave a day's worth of tips.

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The man wasn't even a tourist, but a construction worker on a job nearby.

"That might be my only table the way it looks down here," Rymers said.

___

Online:

http://www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com/

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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