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
The Mexican free-tailed bats living under the Congress Avenue Bridge are renowned as the world’s largest urban bat colony. But their cousins in the Hill Country are no slouches either.
New tours are beginning at the Bracken Bat Cave, on the outskirts of San Antonio at the Natural Bridge Caverns, where participants can witness the evening exodus of bats from what’s called the world’s largest summer bat colony -- period.
Unlike the bat watching along Lady Bird Lake, the tours aren’t free: they costs $25. But they're being held in conjunction with Bat Conservation International, an Austin-based group dedicated to preserving bats and their habitat.
In an interview with MSNBC, Krissy Scotten, a spokeswoman for the National Weather Service in Amarillo, denied that the photo just showed ice on top of rocks, as some skeptics asserted after seeing it. “I can assure you we do not have big rocks like that in West Texas,” she told MSNBC. She said the four feet of ice was caused by a lot of rain and water. “Anytime you have hail accumulate 2 to 4 feet high and get over three inches of rain, no matter how it occurs, it’s pretty incredible,” she told the news site.
The city of Kyle is lifting its water restrictions.
In a letter sent out today, the city says recent rains have "sufficiently recharged" supplies "to allow for the removal of water restrictions beginning immediately. However, even with the removal of mandatory twice a week watering and other restrictions, City officials continue to ask residents to do their part to conserve water." Tips include checking your home and property for leaky pipes and not using a lawn irrigation system that is damaged or is spraying water onto a road or parking lot.
Austin Water launched “Renewing Austin” today, a five-year program to replace 75 miles of old cast-iron waterlines.
The announcement was made this morning at a construction site downtown, where old pipes were already being replaced.
“We’re going to try to replace about 15 miles of those projects every year for at least the next five years,” said Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros. “And hopefully much beyond that, and so we’re going to be investing ... millions dollars over the next five years to replace those projects that are high priority for us.”
Quoting "a White House official," CNN and USA Today are reporting that in a speech tomorrow President Obama will push for fast-tracking the construction of the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline.
The City of Austin has lifted a burn ban for all city parks. You can grill in designated areas, but campfires are only allowed at Emma Long Metropolitan Park.
Victor Ovalle is with Austin Parks and Recreation. He says recent rainfall has improved drought conditions in the area, but s park-goers should still be careful.
“We’re asking the public to be very careful when they’re out," Ovalle said. "There’s still a lot of timber in the area, in our parks, and so we ask them not to leave their fires unattended, to keep a source of water nearby, and before leaving the site, making sure the fire is completely extinguished."
Just days after a Texas farmer’s restraining order against Keystone XL pipeline builder TransCanada was lifted, the Alberta company announced it is starting work on a portion of the pipeline stretching from Oklahoma to Texas.
The company announced today it was reapplying for a permit to route the pipeline through Nebraska. Concerns over the route through Nebraska’s environmentally-sensitive Sand Hills region lead in part to rejection of TransCanada’s earlier application.
But TransCanada also announced it would commence building the southernmost portion of the pipeline -- from Cushing, Oklahoma to Texas ports at the Gulf of Mexico -- while it waits on permitting for the northern portion of the line, which requires presidential approval.
We know the old adage about Texas weather: If you don't like it, just wait five minutes.
But yesterday's unseasonably high February temperatures still came as a surprise to many Austinites, and more warmth is on the way today.
The National Weather Service says the regional warming streak will continue. It predicts "partly sunny and unseasonably warm" weather and says "highs will be in the 80s" today. "Normal high temperatures for this time of year are generally in the 60s," the NWS notes.
That said, today’s heat won’t last. NWS forecasts a cold front hitting the Hill Country this evening, with lows in the 40s and a cool, mild weekend. Guess there’s something to that old adage after all.
A newly-released report on fracking – the practice of pumping hydraulic fracturing fluid into wells to break up and extract oil shale and natural gas deposits – has caused something of a stir in Texas.
You may want to consider avoiding the roads tomorrow morning. The National Weather Service says a "wintry mix" of weather is in the forecast for much of Central and South Central Texas. The NWS says "no significant accumulations of ice or snow are expected" but that "model timing and precipitation amount uncertainties remain."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce took aim at the Obama administration this morning, with a call for the president to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would end at the Texas Gulf Coast.
Chamber president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue claimed in his annual “State of American Business” address that “This project has passed every environmental test. There is no legitimate reason—none at all—to subject it to further delay.”
The largest solar farm in Texas is now pumping power to homes across Austin. The $100 million facility was switched on last month and city officials held a ribbon cutting ceremony today.
The solar farm is located about 20 miles east of Austin in Webbervile. Its footprint covers 380 acres, which is about the size of Zilker Park. And it has 127,000 solar panels that slowly shift to follow the sun’s path.
The solar farm can generate up to 30 megawatts, enough electricity to power about 5,000 homes. The energy is being dispersed throughout Austin Energy’s grid. While the solar array can't provide power all the time, it could provide big benefits during the hot, sunny days of summer.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has warned that Texas could have a hard time meeting energy demand if the summer of 2012 is the summer of 2011, when the state was brought to the brink of rolling blackouts. And ERCOT chief Trip Doggett couldn’t say the Webberville solar farm would be able to solve those challenges.
A federal appeals court in Washington, DC granted the State of Texas a stay today against new EPA air pollution regulations that take effect next year.
The Cross State Air Pollution Rule would require some coal plants in Texas to retrofit their equipment or to switch to a higher-grade coal fuel, in order to meet new sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emission rules.
The injunction sets the stage for an court hearing in April.
Now that BP is resuming oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, the energy giant is looking to revive its image among those who remember the tragic Deepwater Horizon leak that spilled almost 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf in 2010.
BP won eleven tracts in the latest lease sale in the Gulf, which was the first since the well blowout that caused eleven deaths, Forbes.com reports.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced a new rule on Wednesday aimed at reducing the amount of mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants. It is unlikely to improve Texas officials' low opinion of the agency.
"This is a victory for public health, especially the health of our children," said Lisa Jackson, the EPA's head, as she announced the rules at a children's medical center in Washington, D.C.
The rules will take full effect in 2016, Jackson said. "Before this rule, there were no national standards limiting the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases," she said.
Protestors gathered in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Austin this afternoon to denounce a deal struck in Congress that would extend a payroll tax cut by two months in exchange for a measure to speed up a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline. The transcontinental pipeline would transport oil from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.
One of the major sticking points between the House and the Senate as they face off over end-of-year legislation is the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The bill the House passed Tuesday contains a provision forcing President Obama to decide on the pipeline within 60 days.
Republicans say this project should move ahead quickly because it will create thousands of jobs. But just how many jobs would be created is a matter of contention.
Representatives from Austin Energy met with the City Council today to discuss a 12.5 percent rate and fee increase to be implemented in April of next year. Much of the discussion centered on how churches and schools will pay for the rate increase.
In a report released Thursday, the state's electric grid operator indicated that next summer could see a repeat of the rolling blackout threats that plagued Texas past summer. The reason: rising demand for electricity and some power plants going offline.
"If we stay in the current cycle of hot and dry summers, we will be very tight on capacity next summer and have a repeat of this year's emergency procedures and conservation appeals," Trip Doggett, chief executive of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), said in a statement.
If crazy weather — like the deep freeze in February that caused large numbers of power plants to break down — hits again this winter, outages could also result then, the report said. But Doggett put the risk of this happening in the wintertime as "very low."
Hamilton Pool, Stillhouse Hollow, and Bull Creek near Loop 360 have all tested for levels of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria that exceeded both state and federal standards, according to an analysis of government data by Environment Texas. Some strains of E. coli can make adults sick and cause kidney failure among young children and the elderly.
We’re not sure if there’s any timely reason for the University of Texas to warn people not to touch bats, but it’s probably a good reminder:
Environmental Health and Safety and the Office of the Vice President for University Operations want to remind you that Austin has a significant bat population. Bats are considered a high-rabies risk species and like all wildlife, should never be touched.
If you’ve been wanting to pitch a tent and light a campfire, or burn off some of the brush on your property, you've got about seven days to get ‘er done. Travis County Commissioners unanimously voted to lift the burn ban for a week on the advice of the county Fire Marshal Hershel Lee.
“I reviewed the forecast, took into account the recent rains, spoke with most of the local fire department fire chiefs, and taking all that information together, made the recommendation to the court to lift the burn ban for one week,” Lee told KUT News.