NEW BRAUNFELS, TX – City leaders say the so-called can ban went according to plan this summer, and the proof is in the numbers – but not everyone agrees on what those numbers reveal.
New rules that went into effect before the summer tourist season prohibited disposable containers on the rivers that run through the city.
The city reports nearly 80% less trash was removed from the entire river park system compared to last year.
The signs explaining the can ban are all over the parks in a marketing push that still didn’t pull as many tourists as previous years.
"There were fewer people on the river, but I think the numbers speak for themselves,” city manager Mike Morrison says.
He points to the amount of trash actually pulled from the river waters: less than 1,000 pounds this year, down from about 86,000 pounds last year.
"When you go nearly 100% reduction in the amount of trash in the bottoms of the rivers, that's because people are coming and using reusable containers,” Morrison says.
He says last year’s numbers and this year’s numbers are comparable because of similar weather conditions and water levels.
But business owner Chris Sandahl says the numbers just don’t pass the eye test.
"What I mean by the eye test: every time you look to the river, you look to the left, look to the right, over the bridge. You said, 'Wow, that's not that many people there,’’ he says.
Sandahl says Ducky’s, his family’s business, had half its usual foot traffic. Like other outfitters, he blames confusion over the can ban.
"You have something that's a positive to clean up the river, that everybody wants, it's really easy to say yes, this is working so well,” Sandahl says. “But it jeopardizes a lot of the businesses that have been here over 30 years."
He says Ducky’s is ordering less new inventory to make up for the slow summer season.
"It scared so many people off,” Sandahl says. “The biggest worry here is, it's not going to come back."
City Hall predicts tourism numbers will bounce back in a few years. Until then, business owners say the cleaner river comes at a cost, and they hope it won’t be their livelihoods.