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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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."
The rise of fracking as a method for extracting natural gas from shale rock has triggered demand for a key ingredient in the process: silica sand. In parts of the upper Midwest, there's been a rush to mine this increasingly valuable product.
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed new air pollution rules for oil and gas production today. The regulations are the first national standards for emissions from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, a controversial practice used to extract natural gas in the Barnet Shale and in South Texas, among other places.
The EPA has once again delayed releasing stricter ground-level ozone standards. Those were supposed to be issued on July 29. This is the fourth time the EPA has delayed releasing exact standards.
The Bush Administration set the ozone standard at 75 parts per billion in 2008 even after EPA scientists had recommended a more stringent standard. The EPA has indicated that the new standard would fall between 60 to 70 parts per billion.
EPA press secretary Brendan Gilfillan issued this statement in announcing the delay.
For many Austinites, watching a swarm of bats fly out from underneath the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge at sundown is a favorite summer pastime. But this year's drought is taking a toll on that tradition.
Forty plus days of 100 degree weather and no rain have the Mexican free-tailed bats of Central Texas a little stressed. The drought has made it harder for them to find food. Bats are exiting their roosts earlier in the evenings and coming back later in the morning.
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Members Mike Martinez and Chris Riley announced a proposal this morning to phase out free plastic bags at retail stores.
They criticized plastic bags for littering rivers and streams, harming wildlife and too often ending up in landfills. Consumers who reuse the bags to carry their lunches to picking up after their pets disagree. At a news conference this morning, Mayor Leffingwell acknowledged it’s going to take some convincing to get people to change their habits.
To feed its energy demands, the United States is looking for energy in increasingly far-flung environments such as: Ultra-deep offshore oil wells, the Arctic, shale rock formations 20,000 feet underground. The risks involved are often greater, but the industry lacks a set of “best practices” for these new frontiers of energy exploration.
That's a need that researchers at the University of Texas and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hope to fill. Scientists at both colleges are teaming up to create some guidelines for industry. Their focus would range from guiding principles to government policies to the engineering needs required to reduce environmental impact.
Republicans in the US House could vote as soon as today on a measure sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) that would repeal laws on light bulb efficiency. Texas has already adopted a law that exempts incandescent bulbs made in Texas from the federal regulations.
A new Schiltterbahn water park will open in two years in Cedar Park. It’s slated to be smaller than the New Braunfels location. Officials say plans for the park take into consideration frequent drought conditions in Central Texas, much like the region is experiencing now.
The drought presents both good and bad news for Austinites struggling with insect and pest populations. Ants and mosquitos are in decline right now, while spider mites and chinch bugs are thriving.
Texas Agri-Life entomologist Wizzie Brown says that hot dry conditions are good for some insect populations and bad for others. She says the number of fire ants at ground level and mosquito populations drop during droughts.
There's a glimmer of hope for the Llano water supply. The city's primary water supply, the Llano River, was about to dry up. Emergency reservoirs would have enough water to supply the city for between 60 and 90 days. But officials have located an underground water source that could ease the water situation.
Llano City Manager Finley deGraffenried says water from a 200-foot-deep well struck yesterday is yielding about 100 gallons per minute, which will help a little.
"I think that I shall never see/A poem as lovely as a tree," wrote Joyce Kilmer almost a century ago. The City of Austin is taking nominations for the loveliest of trees to honor as the 2011 "Tree of the Year."
Today's the last day to nominate a tree to be this year's honoree. The tree can be in any part of Austin. It can be any species of tree, but there are some eligibility requirements.
Calling it “one of the worst droughts in more than a century”, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has named 213 of Texas’ 254 counties as primary natural disaster areas. The measure allows farmers and ranchers to apply for federal disaster aid. The remaining 41 counties also qualify for assistance because they are contiguous.
South by Southwest is adding another conference to its roster of music, film, interactive, and education forums.
It will be called SXSW Eco. The focus will be on finding ways to make humanity more ecologically sustainable. Unlike other SXSW forums, this conference will run from October 4-6. Early tickets are $800.
We called SXSW managing director Roland Swenson to find out more.
KUT News: What is this South by Southwest Eco conference?