Energy & Environment

Water, energy, conservation, sustainability, WTP4, pollution, oil and gas, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), recycling, and other environmental issues related to Austin and the Central Texas counties of Travis, Hays, Caldwell, Bastrop and Williamson

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

AUSTIN — A commission convened by Gov. Greg Abbott to focus on rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey issued a report Thursday saying the state should take a series of steps to prepare for the next big storm, including hardening utilities against natural disasters, improving the debris removal processes and expanding a council devoted to emergency management.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Wastewater from Dripping Springs could flow into Austin's watershed by as soon as next year.

After years of back-and-forth, city officials say they expect the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to approve a permit from Dripping Springs to discharge wastewater into Onion Creek next month, paving the way for the City of Dripping Springs to begin diverting runoff after the new year.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Friday, while millions of Americans recovered at home from Turkey-induced torpors, the Trump administration released a report on climate change that forecasts a grim future for Texas. 

Austin firefighters in California
Lt. John Stirling / Austin Fire Department

A week after firefighters from across Texas were deployed to fight devastating wildfires in California, Austin Fire Department crews learned Monday they should be home in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration came out with an analysis this fall that found Austin and other parts of the state should expect more flooding in the future. And, as it turns out, Texas may see even more flooding than the Atlas 14 study suggests.

National Weather Service

A freeze warning will be in effect tonight for much of Central and South Texas — including Travis and surrounding counties. The warning begins at 8 p.m. and goes until 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Temperatures are expected to drop well below freezing by tomorrow morning. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport could set a new record low.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

The City of Austin has lifted emergency water-use restrictions enacted last month, as the city dealt with problems with water treatment following record flooding in the Highland Lakes.

Austin Water says customers can now resume outdoor watering that was banned under the emergency restrictions. Austin remains at so-called conservation stage restrictions.

National Weather Service

A freeze warning is in effect for much of Central Texas starting at 8 p.m. Monday until 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The National Weather Service says temperatures will drop below freezing starting in the Hill Country this evening and spreading east to the I-35 corridor through the night.

Los Angeles Fire Department

Hundreds of Texas firefighters will start heading to California on Monday morning to help battle wildfires burning in Southern California. 

Montinique Monroe for KUT

Take a look around the next time you’re outside and you might see wings of orange and black fluttering in the sky.

Emree Weaver/KUT

Austin Water officials have lifted a boil-water notice for all its customers that’s been in place since Monday. They say the water is now safe to drink straight from the tap.

Emree Weaver for KUT

As problems with Austin’s water supply continue, the recommendation is to boil tap water for three minutes before consuming it. Most other uses are fine. But there are plenty of people out there who can’t feasibly boil all the water they — or their families — need.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / KUT

Austin Water issued a boil-water notice and asked residents to reduce water consumption Monday after historic flooding overwhelmed its water treatment plants.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

An overnight spike in silt in Austin's tap water triggered an official boil-water notice from state regulators.

The water briefly exceeded the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s regulatory standards for drinking water quality, surpassing a limit of 5 turbidity units. The city's earlier boil-water notice was only precautionary.

Julia Reihs / KUT

A boil water notice remains in effect for Austin Water customers, and the city of Austin is pleading for people to slash their water consumption by 15 to 20 percent. Outdoor water use is being banned as part of what officials describe as an emergency situation. 

Travis County’s emergency management chief said the situation could last up to two weeks.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

Austin Water officials are issuing an "urgent call" for people to reduce water usage immediately, as the utility struggles with debris, silt and mud in the water supply after historic flooding in the Highland Lakes. Lake Travis is the source of Austin's drinking water.

"Austin Water is experiencing reduced water treatment capacity," the utility said in an email. "It is taking more time to remove the higher levels of silt and debris."

The level of cloudiness in the lake water has increased by more than 100 times, according to Austin Water.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Update: The LCRA now says it will not open eight floodgates on Thursday, Oct. 18, but may in the coming days. 

It’s never happened before, but the Lower Colorado River Authority will likely open eight floodgates on the Mansfield Dam above Lake Austin by noon Thursday.

So, what can you expect if you live in Austin?

Andrea Garcia for KUT

Jonathan Hammond has lived in Marble Falls all 30 years of his life. Until yesterday, he'd never seen flooding so bad.

"This is just crazy absolutely crazy," Hammond said, standing on the Highway 281 bridge watching floodwaters rushed by.

Twitter via @TravisCOSW

The Lower Colorado River Authority is advising residents along Lake Travis to be wary of rising water as levels at Lake Travis are forecast to reach near-record highs.

A flood camera helps monitor conditions along the Colorado River in River Hills.
Eddie Gaspar for KUT

After a new study showed thousands of additional homes were at risk of flooding in Austin, the city is preparing to revamp rules on building within a floodplain.

The study, known as Atlas 14, revised the city's understanding of historical rainfall data, adding 3,000 properties to the city's 100-year floodplain – which impacts everything from what people pay for insurance to how they can build homes.

Martin do Nascimento / KUT

Texas-based oil giant Exxon Mobil got some good press this week when it announced it was donating $1 million to a campaign to enact a carbon tax in the U.S. But many worry the tax proposal would not slow emissions quickly enough and could harm the environment through its legislative giveaways to the oil and gas industry. 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Environmentalists in Austin worry about methane emissions from Texas oilfields, plastic pollution clogging up creeks and rivers or nuclear waste being shipped through the state. But one thing they rarely worry about is each other – at least until recently, when an initiative called Proposition J landed on the ballot.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

A massive update to Austin’s floodplain map shows about 3,000 properties are at higher risk of flooding than previously thought. 

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody https://twitter.com/SheriffChody

After areas of Williamson County received more than six inches of rain overnight, the South Fork San Gabriel River in Georgetown has reached moderate flood stage. That prompted officials to evacuate some people living along the river including in the lower level of the Shady River RV Resort off East State Highway 29.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Around 3,000 more Austin properties will find themselves in high-risk floodplains thanks to a new National Weather Service study called Atlas 14. Those new flood designations could impact everything from what you pay for insurance to how you build your home.

Wikimedia Commons

Divers have found large amounts of invasive zebra mussels at intake pipes that feed Austin’s water supply, opening up a costly new challenge for the city’s water utility.

Hurricane Florence is moving relentlessly toward the Southeastern U.S. It's a large, powerful cyclone that will likely bring storm surge and high winds to coastal communities.

But climate scientists say one of the biggest threats posed by Florence is rain.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

A plan to build a publicly funded seawall to protect oil refineries has highlighted gaps in how oil and gas companies inform investors of potential risks associated with climate change.

Vivian Abagiu / UT Austin

Scientists say they’ve invented a new tool to fight mosquito-borne illnesses. The technology could help public health officials rapidly track and fight the spread of diseases like Zika and dengue fever.

All it takes is a cellphone, a small 3D-printed plastic box and a chemical mixture, says Sanchita Bhadra, a molecular biologist at UT Austin who worked on the project.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

More than half of Austin waterways have unsafe levels of fecal bacteria, according to a study out today. The analysis from Environment Texas found 46 of the 76 sites tested in Austin exceeded safe levels of bacteria at least once last year. 

Brian Zabcik, a clean water advocate with Environment Texas, said nearly half of the 1,450 freshwater sites tested across the state had similar problems.

"Of those locations, 49 percent had at least one day of unsafe bacteria level last year," Zabcik said, "bacteria levels that were too high to safely go swimming."

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