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

Photo by Mose Buchele for KUT News

More than one-third of timber damaged by wildfires in East Texas has been salvaged and resold by property owners. Separate wildfires across the eastern part of the state in June scorched over 30,000 acres. The salvaged timber will be repackaged and sold as building materials, paper, and fuel. The value of the resold goods is expected to exceed $100 million.

Photo by KUT News.

Texas longhorn cattle descended from cattle brought in by Spanish explorers. Today some make their home at state parks and historic sites. But budget cuts and the drought could send state-owned longhorns off to market.

Talks are under way on the fate of nearly 400 longhorns living on state lands, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials say. The herds may be removed or reduced this fall, a prospect that upsets longhorn enthusiasts.

JD Hancock/Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdhancock/

The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) held a public hearing regarding possible water utility bill increases.

Monarch proposed to raise water utility prices by 62.3% and wastewater rates by 33.6%. The changes would apply to Pflugerville residents who receive their water from Windermere Water Company. The company was recently purchased by Monarch. The Pflugerville City Council met in August and suspended the rate hikes for ninety days.

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

This weekend's rain is helping to replenish the Highland Lakes - at least a little bit.  In the Austin area, most places got 1.5-2 inches of rain. Cedar Park and Leander got 2-2.5 inches. Further northwest in the Hill County 4-6 inches of rain fell. Lower Colorado River Authority Meteorologist Bob Rose says that was good for the Highland Lakes two water storage reservoirs.

Photo courtesy Valero

The federal Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed scaling back some requirements of its cross-state rule for reducing air pollution — a rule that has incited the fury of Texas officials including Gov. Rick Perry.

Photo couresty of Ohio Office of Redevelopment at Flickr.com http://www.flickr.com/photos/63837784@N08/5925932549/

A Gulf Coast landowner may sell groundwater to the builders of the proposed coal-fired power plant White Stallion in Matagorda County. The landowner has submitted an application to drill a well that would provide 1,199 acre feet of water a year to the power plant.

Photo by Robert W. Hart for the Texas Tribune

To meet the needs of its growing population, drought-stricken Texas urgently needs more water infrastructure totaling $231 billion to augment water supplies and treatment, wastewater processing and flood control by 2060, according to a draft of the state water plan that was released last month.

Logo courtesy of SXSWeco

We all know about the South by Southwest music, film and interactive festivals but SXSW is delving into more civic engagement events.

It was just this past March when SXSW organizers launched their first ever SXSWedu for teachers, education researchers and state leaders. That education conference came at time when Texas lawmakers were laying out big cuts to public education.

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News.

Opponents of a plan to build a pipeline from the Canadian oil sands to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast say newly released emails show an uncomfortably cozy relationship between a lobbyist and employees at the U.S. State Department.

Greg Westfall/flickr

Bow hunting season for White-tailed deer starts tomorrow in Texas. The ongoing extreme drought has culled deer population in many parts of the state. Nevertheless, Chris Mitchell with Texas Parks and Wildlife says the department wants hunters to take their full bag limit of deer this season. And that's less about sport and more about survival of the species.

Photo by Austin Energy

The City of Austin says it will become the largest local government in the United States to be powered entirely by renewable electricity when it flicks the switch on Saturday. The move is estimated to cost taxpayers $6 million over ten years.

“It’s a commitment you make to further the goal of reducing carbon emissions,” Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell told KUT News. “That’s a value to everybody that lives in the city.”

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

Every five years, the Texas Water Development Board publishes a water plan for the state. The 295-page draft of the 2012 plan, published last week in the midst of the worst-ever single-year drought Texas has ever experienced, is a sobering read.

"The primary message of the 2012 state water plan is a simple one," the introduction states. "In serious drought conditions, Texas does not and will not have enough water to meet the needs of its people, and its businesses, and its agricultural enterprises."

The report is packed with data and projections, but a few stand out. The state population, now 25 million, is expected to increase to 46 million by 2060. During that time, existing water supplies will fall 10 percent as the Ogallala and other aquifers are depleted.

Photo by KUT News.

An Austin-based plumbing company is taking on an ambitious job to battle the ongoing drought. Radiant Plumbing says it can save the city three million gallons of water per month. It plans on doing this by replacing one thousand leaky toilet flappers for free. Sarah Casebier is one of Radiant Plumbing's co-owners.

“If we wanted to do something that makes a difference, there’s not a lot of things that a plumber can do," she told KUT News. "But this is something we can do.”

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

Almost two weeks after Austin implemented Stage II water restrictions, water usage has dropped across the city. Since the new rules took effect on September 6, Austin has been using about 179 million gallons of water a day. Before Stage II restrictions, our water usage was averaging closer to 203 million gallons a day. That’s a decrease of about 12 percent.

Photo courtesy of the Texas General Land Office

The Christmas Mountains, near Big Bend National Park in West Texas, will stay in public hands.

This morning Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson announced the remote 9,200-plus acre tract of land is being transferred to the Texas State University System.  It will be used for research and as an outdoor classroom for students.

Lower Colorado River Authority

Fearing that this drought could reduce lake levels lower than ever before, the board of the Lower Colorado River Authority, the wholesale supplier of water to Austin and other Central Texas cities, plans to meet next week to discuss reducing or ending its water sales to downriver farmers next year.

Photo by Mikey Tapscott http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeytapscott/

With wildfires scorching thousands of acres of Central Texas, people have been particularly sensitive to the danger of a wildfire. Especially the danger posed by drivers tossing lit cigarette butts out the windows of their cars.

“I'm okay with smokers, but watching someone flick a cigarette out of the car window makes me want to force them to eat it,” Michael Burnett Tweeted this week.

“I might start tweeting license plate numbers of people who throw cigarette butts out. Been seeing it more than ever,” wrote Michael Vilaythong.

Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News.

Texas cities and counties will have more time to cut down on air pollution before new ozone standards come into effect in two years. President Obama pulled the plug on proposed ozone standards that were supposed to be announced today after multiple delays.

The decision could be considered a win for businesses that have argued that the federal government was going to revisit ozone standards in 2013 anyway. This is part of the statement the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality put out in response to the delay.

Photo by Tom Pennington via the Texas Tribune

In a report released this morning, the Texas electric grid operator warned of "risks of outages for Texas power users" if a federal pollution rule takes effect as scheduled in January.

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

The ongoing drought has been hurting Central Texas endangered species. Threatened salamanders, beetles, fish and other animals may be evacuated from the San Marcos River and Comal Springs. But that wouldn't happen until at least next year, if it happens at all.

Bill Seawell is a biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Austin. He says the evacuations have happened before, in 1989 and again in 1996, and they're hoping they don't have to do it again.

Photo by KUT News

Central Texas is under an Orange ozone alert, meaning the air is unhealthy to people who have breathing difficulties. It happens on the day a report is issued that claims the state could see more ozone action days in the future.

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News.

Better restrooms, an educational water feature, and maybe a few more parking spaces could come to Auditorium Shores in the future. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has awarded the City of Austin a $1 million urban park grant to make improvements to the Austin’s most popular trailhead.

Austin Parks and Recreation is updating the master plan for Auditorium Shores and Butler Park. The grant will be used to complete projects in this master plan. The City of Austin is matching the TPWD grant.

Image courtesy National Weather Service

The sweltering heat in Texas has taken Austin past an important milestone: We have set a new record for the number of days with triple digit temperatures in a single year.

At 2:00 this afternoon, thermometers at Camp Mabry registered 100 degrees, making it the 70th time this year that has happened. It breaks the previous record of 69 days set in 1925.

“This is just one way to measure the absolute severity of the summer,” Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose told KUT News. “We’ve had a lot of days at 99 as well, and they’ve felt every bit as hot.”

Photo by Hill Country Conservancy

Eastern Travis County may be on the cusp of a development boom, but a new 285-acre swath of land will be off-limits to developers. The Brockenbrough Ranch (pronounced BROE-ken-broe) has been placed under a protected conservation easement.

Image courtesy of University of Texas, Bureau of Economic Geology

After yesterday’s panic on the East Coast over a 5.8 earthquake, we wondered what the odds were of a similarly sized tremor hitting us.

Turns out, the odds are pretty slim. University of Texas seismologist Cliff Frohlich has studied earthquakes for 39 years. He says West Texas had earthquakes in 1931 and 1995 that were near a magnitude 6.0. The 1995 quake was even felt by some people in Austin.  Central Texas had its own 4.0 earthquake in 1902.

Photo by Michael Stravato/The Texas Tribune

Citing falling lake levels amid the driest nine-month period in state history, the chair of the Texas Senate's Natural Resources Committee is calling on the Lower Colorado River Authority to take emergency actions that would suspend the release of water from the Highland Lakes for interruptible customers downstream.

Photo by CaliforniaDFG at http://www.flickr.com/photos/californiadfg/4899552970/sizes/o/in/photostream/

The Associated Press is reporting the investigation into an oil sheen that was spotted off the Gulf of Mexico last week. Various oil companies, including BP, are trying to figure out where the sheen came from.

An oil sheen (not the same as a spill) happens when a thin layer of oil settles on top of the water shimmering in different colors and can come from leaks or spills.

Photo by Jessie Wang for KUT News

The number of venomous bites and stings has increased since last year as the drought sends snakes and other wild animals searching for food and water.

Kelly Conrad Bender, an urban wildlife biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife, came to the University Medical Center Brakenridge to explain the changes in wildlife.

“Wildlife, these individual animals, has not experienced this kind of drought, but their species has. They are the result of thousands of years of adaptation to our climate and these droughts do happen occasionally, maybe once every 50 to 100 years. So the species, given appropriate habitat and given a good balanced stable habitat, they will survive and they’ll come out stronger,” Bender said.

Illustration courtesy of Texas Tribune

A Department of Energy subcommittee is recommending steps for restoring  public trust in the natural gas extraction process known as hyrdaulic fracturing or "fracking," an important part of the Obama Administration's energy policy.

Over the last few years, public concern over the process has grown with the release of documentaries like Gasland and reports of possible connections between fracking and contaminated ground water. You can watch the trailer to Gasland here to get a sense of the film's story arc and tone:

Yesterday, a group of 28 scientists representing 22 universities sent a letter to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, "expressing concern over the lack of impartiality on the Natural Gas Subcommittee."  The group criticized what they called "advocacy based science" and pointed out that six of the seven members of the subcommittee "have current financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry."

The group called for greater impartiality and asked that "at a minimum" subcommittee chairman John Deutch, an MIT professor and former CIA director,  leave the subcommittee and be replaced by "a person with no financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry."

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