US/ICOMOS mourns the passing on July 30, 2016 of long time member Sara “Sally” Matthews Buchanan, 73, of San Antonio. A native of San Antonio, Buchanan held a B.A. in Art History from Mills College in Oakland, CA. Her professional, civic and community interests and roles were numerous and included travel, architecture, entrepreneurship, classical music and more. It may be, however, that Buchanan’s greatest professional passion could be found at the intersection of heritage, water and urbanization. Because of her interest in and knowledge about water, she was an elected Director of the San Antonio River Authority since 1999, and served as Secretary and most recently as President.
It is a testament to Sally that these issues of water and heritage – which she championed for decades – are today among the most timely and pressing of contemporary concerns. Indeed, US/ICOMOS and partners just last month proposed a session at the upcoming UN Climate Change Summit (COP22) entitled “The World Heritage of Water: Traditional Knowledge & Contemporary Applications in a Rapidly Changing Climate.” The session concept note states:
These themes are relevant for modern policy makers, engineers, designers, planners and preservationists to understand since the lessons of the past can offer viable and sustainable solutions to today’s water access, stewardship, and infrastructure challenges. Ancient water engineers grappled with the same issues that modern water engineers do, e.g., providing abundant and reliable supplies of potable water, water security, water storage, agricultural irrigation, efficient urban distribution, water theft, hygiene, etc. The history of water and irrigation, the development of related technologies, and the sustainability of the old systems provides insight into the factors that have sustained successful outcomes over generations and have great potential for informing and aiding in the development of climate resilience and adaptation strategies.
For years, Buchanan has had an interest the watercourses that criss-cross our city, the acequias. She loves to tell of their engineering which can be traced back to the Moors in North Africa and then brought to the New World by the Spanish. It is not uncommon for her to take friends on acequia tours to see where the dried irrigation ditches still exist, “like bones that stick up in the dry earth.” She is mesmerized with the fact that the Espada Acequia by the Mission of the same name has flowed since the Spanish colonial era, and is the only one within the 50 miles of acequias in the region to do so continuously. “I have been fascinated because our whole city was shaped by the river, its creeks and seven acequias,” comments Buchanan. It is her aim to make information about the historic watercourses accessible to the public and has long been attracted to the cultural tourism inherent with the heritage of San Antonio.