12:04 pm
Tue November 22, 2011

Burn Ban Busts Aggie Bonfire Again

The Aggie bonfire in 2005
Photo by mikel_duke http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikelduke/

Chalk up another casualty of the Texas drought: Texas A&M University’s annual student bonfire was called off because of a burn ban in Robertson County. It’s the second year in a row that Aggie students havehad to cancel the towering 45 foot inferno.

“We’ve been under severe drought conditions now for a year,” Michelle Haver, a court coordinator for the Robertson county judge, told StateImpact Texas a joint reporting project of KUT and NPR.

As the bonfire’s website explains, the stack site will be open to visitors, but “under no circumstances” will they start a fire.

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4:41 pm
Mon November 14, 2011

Texas Town in Race to Find New Water Source

Keith Tilley, director of public works for the town of Groesbeck , photographed at Fort Parker Lake i Fort Parker State Park.
Photo by Allison V. Smith

On her way to work recently, Jackie Levingston, the volunteer mayor of this ranching town east of Waco, stopped at an office in City Hall to pay her water bill. “Before there’s no water left to buy,” she said, making a sad joke.

Groesbeck, which has received no measurable rainfall since April, ranks near the top of the state’s list of communities in danger of running out of water. The most intense drought in Texas history has caused the water against the dam dividing the Navasota River, Groesbeck’s sole source of water, to fall 44 inches below its normal level.

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12:09 pm
Mon November 14, 2011

Cooler Weather Doesn’t Mean Drought Relief

The cracked ground at Boquillas Canyon Trail at Big Bend National Park in October. Ninety percent of Texas is still in drought, according to the US Drought Monitor.
Photo by littlemoresunshine http://www.flickr.com/photos/littlemoresunshine/

When the temperatures drop and the skies become overcast, it might be easy to forget that we are still in the worst single-year drought in Texas history. But as the Lower Colorado River Authority points out, the cooler weather should not be mistaken for drought relief.

Lakes Travis and Buchanan, our region’s water supply reservoirs, are 37 percent full. Lake Travis is 41 feet below its monthly average. Lake Buchanan is 23 feet lower than its average, causing a piece of land normally underwater to become visible.

Not only is “Sometimes Island” in plain view, the Statesman reports, but for the first time since the 60’s, you don’t even need a boat to get to it.

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10:31 am
Mon November 7, 2011

The Texas Drought, One Year In

The Texas drought has lasted for a year, and climatologists don't expect it to end anytime soon.
Photo by I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

The Texas drought has been in effect for about a year now, give or take a month depending on whom you ask.

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2:06 pm
Thu November 3, 2011

Austin Congressman McCaul a Top Water User Despite Drought

The entrance to Michael McCaul's community, photographed in early November 2011.
Photo by Muliadi Soenaryo for the Texas Tribune

In Texas House and Senate hearings this week, state lawmakers heard repeatedly about the crisis created by the record-breaking drought — and the need for Texans to conserve water.

One elected official who has lagged on this front is U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin.

From October 2010 through September 2011 — a time period that corresponds almost exactly to the first 12 months of the drought — a property belonging to McCaul and his wife was the sixth-largest water user among all Austin residential customers, according to records obtained from Austin's water utility. The McCauls' water consumption, 1.4 million gallons over those 12 months, comes to about 15 times the consumption of the average Austin home over that time.

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12:39 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

State Climatologist: Drought at Least 1 More Year

Two Texas senate committees held a joint hearing Tuesday to discuss the state's ongoing drought.
Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News.

What does the future hold for the Texas drought? Two Texas Senate committees heard testimony today on what has become the worst single-year dry spell in Texas history. The state’s climatologist, John Nielsen- Gammon, told lawmakers not to expect relief anytime soon.

“Going forward this drought is likely to last another year at least because the primary trigger of the drought, La Nina in the Pacific, has returned so it’s extremely unlikely we will come out of drought conditions by the winter,” Nielsen-Gammon said during a hearing at the Capitol Tuesday morning. 

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News Brief
5:28 am
Tue November 1, 2011

Top Morning Stories November 1, 2011

Texas Senators to Discuss Drought

Two Texas Senate committees are meeting this morning to discuss the state's ongoing drought. The Senate's Natural Resources Committee and Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee are meeting together to hear invited testimony from experts about the drought and how long it's likely to last. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows most of the state is still in exceptional or extreme drought status.

Officer-Involved Shooting in Georgetown

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1:36 pm
Thu October 27, 2011

Drought's Economic Impact Spreading Across Texas

Photo by Molly Jade for Texas Tribune

A year into the driest stretch in recorded state history, most Texans are still far from running out of water. But the devastating economic impact is beginning to extend beyond rural agriculture and into tourism, real estate and other staples of more urbanized economies.

The tiny town of Robert Lee, the self-described "Playground of West Texas,” is already reeling from these problems. 

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4:59 pm
Wed October 26, 2011

The Top 25 Water Users in Austin


A few years back, Lance Armstrong was caught. He apologized, admitted the error of his ways, and promised to do better in the future. His offense? Using too much water.

Armstrong had used 330,000 gallons of water in July 2008. He hadn’t even been home at his three acre, 14,475 square foot estate. “I’m a little shocked,” he told a newspaper at the time. “There’s no justification for that much water. I need to fix this.”

Well, it’s been several summers since then, this last one being notable for being the hottest and driest on record. And the city is in stage two watering restrictions because of the historic drought.  But it would appear Armstrong has not learned how to conserve. According to data from Austin Water Utility, he used around 1.3 million gallons of water in the last year, putting him among the top ten residential users of water in town.

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1:54 pm
Thu October 20, 2011

New Federal Forecast Says Drought to Worsen Over Winter

Photo by AgriLife Today / Kay Ledbetter

While already-sodden northern regions of the United States can expect above-average rains this winter, the worst one-year drought in Texas history looks set to persist in the coming months, federal forecasters said today.

It is "most likely that severe drought will persist through the winter" in the Southern Plains, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Predictions Center, speaking on a press call timed with the release of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Winter Outlook, which covers the months of December through February.

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3:54 pm
Wed October 19, 2011

If Drought Worsens, Austin Could Be Forced To Cut Water Use By 20 Percent

Lake Travis water levels are approaching historic lows.
Reshma Kirpalani for KUT News

Austin would have to reduce its water consumption by a whopping 20 percent if the current drought surpasses the ten-year drought of record that occurred during the 1940's and 50's, something that could happen as soon as this spring.  The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) board decided today that it would go into “pro rata curtailment” if Lakes Travis and Buchanan drop below 600,000 acre feet.

“Pro rata curtailment” would mean all LCRA customers would have to reduce their draw by 20 percent. Austin gets all of its water from the Colorado River, so that would leave little wiggle room for the city.

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1:45 pm
Wed October 19, 2011

Lubbock Cleans Up From Dust Storm

The dust storm turned daylight an ominous red in Lubbock.
Photo by timandkris http://www.flickr.com/photos/timandkris/

Life is getting back to normal in Lubbock after a dust cloud shrouded the city on Monday. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal newspaper described it as an “end-of-the world sight”, and when you check out this video, you can see why.

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4:56 pm
Tue October 18, 2011

Where's the Wildfire Benefit Money Going?

Photo by KUT News

Monday night's star-studded concert at the Erwin Center benefiting Central Texas wildfire victims raised more than $500,000. 

We sat down with MariBen Ramsey of the Austin Community Foundation – the beneficiary of the fundraising proceeds -- and asked Ramsey to explain where this money's going to go.

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News Brief
7:20 am
Mon October 17, 2011

Top Morning Stories October 17, 2011

This week is Native Texas Plant Week.
Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News

Possible Austin Energy Rate Hikes

The Electric Utility Commission of Austin will meet this evening at six to discuss Austin Energy’s proposed rate hikes from August. Members of the public are invited to speak at tonight’s meeting. The event will be held at Town Lake Center on Barton Springs Road. There will be an additional special-called meeting this Thursday. Read KUT's report on the proposed rate changes.

Bastrop Relief Concert

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12:04 pm
Mon October 10, 2011

Much-Needed Rain Provides Some Relief

Rainfall over the weekend was the heaviest Austin has seen since June.
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.

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9:22 am
Sun October 9, 2011

Sunday Morning Roundup for October 9

Good news: It's raining. Bad news: It may be too much rain for extremely dry ground. A Flash Flood Watch remain in effect over Central Texas until 6:00 tonight.
Image courtesy National Weather Service

The broken heat records, the endless months of dry weather are gone...at least for today.

Flash Flood Watch for Central Texas

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williamson county
2:27 pm
Fri October 7, 2011

Emergency Ban On All Watering In Round Rock, Georgetown

Photo by flick3r&fade http://www.flickr.com/photos/rltherichman/

Round Rock and Georgetown are moving to their highest level of drought emergency because of the mechanical failure of two pumps that move water from a lake in Bell County to Lake Georgetown, a major source of water for people who live in the area.

“Basically, any [Georgetown resident] on the west side of I-35, their water is coming from Lake Georgetown,” city spokesman Keith Hutchinson told KUT News. “It’s our primary water supply.”

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4:40 pm
Wed October 5, 2011

Hay Shortage Frazzles Texas Horse Owners

One of Stephanie Reed's horses in Dale, Texas
Photo by Emily Donahue, KUT News

The drought is causing severe shortages of hay across Texas, and that’s making life difficult for people who own horses.

If you can even find someone to sell you hay, you’ll probably have to pay through the nose for it. Stephanie Reed has a few horses in Dale, Texas.

“In 2010, it was still a little high, but the average cost for a round bale of hay was $45 to $50 dollars,” Reed said. “Today, I am paying between $125 and $150.”

It’s just one of the many economic consequences of the worst single-year drought in Texas history.

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parks and recreation
1:35 pm
Wed October 5, 2011

City Trying to Give Some Teeth to Burn Ban in Parks

Smoking is banned in all city parks, including Auditorium Shores.
Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News.

No smoking, grilling or any kind of open flames are allowed at city parks in Austin right now, but the city can’t really enforce that ban.  That's because parks police can only ask people to stop those actions.  A resolution on tomorrow’s city council agenda could change that. 

It would direct the city manager to create an ordinance that would make it illegal to have an open flame in a park when a burn ban is in effect. Violations would be a Class C misdemeanor, with a fine likely around a couple hundred bucks.

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11:54 am
Wed October 5, 2011

Bastrop County Fire’s Growth Slows

An image of the fire just hours after it broke out on October 4. The blaze is now 25 percent contained.
Photo by Matt Largey, KUT News

Update at 12:45 p.m.: Bastrop County's Office of Emergency Management reports on their Facebook page that the Old Potato Road fire apparently hasn't burned as much land as earlier thought.

County officials quote the Texas Forest Service, saying the fire has only consumed 315 acres.  Earlier estimates had the fire consuming 1,000 acres.

The fire is now listed as 50 percent contained. 

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