Energy & Environment

Environment
4:12 pm
Wed July 18, 2012

What's That Smell? Algae Bloom Causing 'Musty' Smelling Water

High levels of blue green algae in Lake Austin may result in "earthy" smelling water.
flickr.com/hayesandjenn

A blue green algae bloom in Lake Austin may lead to “musty” or “earthy” smelling and tasting water for some Austinites says Austin Water, the utility responsible for city water treatment and distribution.

Jason Hill, a spokesman for Austin Water, said there is no way to know what parts of the city might receive the water, but that the strange smell does not effect its safety.

Austin Water discovered high levels of the algae in routine samples of the city's raw water. Hill said the company is adding powdered carbon to its treatment process to try and counteract the algae’s scent and flavor.

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Environment
1:03 pm
Mon July 16, 2012

Recent Rain Barely Boosts Lake Levels

Lake Travis, photographed in June 2012. The lake is less than half full.
LCRA

Parts of North Austin and Round Rock received more than four inches of rain in last night’s storm. But Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan are only up a couple of inches. That’s because most of the rain fell downstream of the watershed.

Bob Rose is the chief meteorologist with the Lower Colorado River Authority. He says the recent rain has been great, but is no drought-buster.

“To really start re-filling the lakes, we kind of need an overall change in the whole weather pattern," Rose says. "Where we start getting more rain more frequently and the rain falls all across the area, including the Hill Country."

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Energy
11:33 am
Mon July 16, 2012

Austin's Pecan Street Project on PBS NewsHour

The Pecan Street Project underway in the Mueller community has received national attention.
pecanstreet.org

The Pecan Street Project – a demonstration “smart grid” energy system in the emerging Mueller development – was featured on the PBS NewsHour.

Charles Upshaw, a mechanical engineering graduate student working on the project, told StateImpact Texas the initiative is ”a collaboration between the University of Texas, the City of Austin, Austin Energy and a bunch of companies. In order to really test, and have a real world kind of experiment with high density residential solar, they have offered additional incentives to the [Mueller homeowners] on top of the Austin energy rebate and the federal rebate, so the people in Mueller have an opportunity to get solar really cheaply.”

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Environment
1:27 pm
Fri July 13, 2012

How Natural Gas is Fueling the UT-A&M Rivalry

Researchers hope to make it easier and more affordable for consumers to own natural gas vehicles.
Wikimedia

When Texas A&M left the Big 12, many assumed the rivalry between the Aggies and the Longhorns left with it.

Now the two Texas colleges are facing off again, but this time there’s a chance both schools – and the public –  could win. Yesterday, UT-Austin and Texas A&M were awarded grant money from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop cheaper natural gas vehicles.

UT’s Center for Electromechanics received more than $4 million to engineer new ways to refuel natural gas cars at home.

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Environment
11:39 am
Thu July 12, 2012

Austin Lifts Stage II Water Restrictions

Austin is easing water restrictions, although not to its previous Stage I levels.
flickr.com/amorton

Starting Monday, Austin residents will be able to water two days a week under Stage I restrictions. Stage II water restrictions had been in effect since last September.

The city says wetter than expected conditions this past winter and spring have increased the storage volumes of Lakes Travis and Buchanan. And those levels will be better maintained this year because water is being cut off to rice farmers downstream under the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Emergency Drought Plan.

Despite the improvement in water storage levels, Central Texas remains under drought conditions. But Austin Water spokesperson Jason Hill says it’s important for customers to be able to take care of landscaping as we head into the hottest part of the summer.

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Weather
12:01 pm
Tue July 10, 2012

Update: Flash Flood Warning for Bastrop County; Emergency Shelter in Place

A National Weather Service map forecasts continued rain for Central Texas
National Weather Service

Update (Noon): Via Twitter,  Bastrop Country Emergency Operations reports that FM 969 has been reopened.

Travis County Emergency Services reports that Star Flight helicopter service has been requested to search Eastern Travis and Western Bastrop counties. “Reported houses and vehicles submerged. Unknown if there are any victims,” the group says.

The American Red Cross Central Texas Region says they are dispatching a disaster assessment team “to the neighborhood affected by this morning’s flash flood in Webberville, TX. The team will have supplies, snacks, and water, and will be on scene to assess the needs of affected residents. Additional volunteers are standing by to open a shelter if needed.” 

The flash flood warning for Bastrop and portions of Travis County expired at noon. 

Original Post (11:13 a.m.): Bastrop and East Central Travis County are under a flash flood warning until noon, due to heavy rainfall last night and this morning.

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Environment
12:58 pm
Thu July 5, 2012

Report: Bad Procedures Caused the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

Smoke rises from Unit No. 3 of the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Anonymous AP

Originally published on Thu July 5, 2012 1:21 pm

On the same day Japan's first nuclear power plant went back online, a panel of Japanese officials released a scathing report on last year's nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant. Their view? The crisis was preventable.

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Environment
12:07 pm
Thu July 5, 2012

Colorado River’s Oxygen Levels Dropping

The volunteers of Austin Youth River Watch regularly test the water in the Colorado.
Austin Youth River Watch

The Colorado River not only supplies much of Central Texas with its drinking water, it’s also a cherished destination for summer recreation seekers. But new data suggests that the health of the river ecosystem might be in jeopardy.

And authorities might not have known about the scope of the problem without the help of some teenage naturalists.

For about 20 years, Austin Youth River Watch has organized groups of teens to monitor the water quality of the Colorado. Every week they check water at different parts of the river and its tributaries. Lately they’ve been getting some unusual readings.

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Environment
2:04 pm
Thu June 28, 2012

Hold On to Your Butts: Fire Department Sees Six Cigarette Fires in One Day

The Austin Fire Department responded to six small grass fires along major roads yesterday afternoon.
Callie Hernandez for KUT News

The Austin Fire Department is reminding everyone to be extra careful to prevent grass fires.

Fire crews responded to 12 calls about small grass fires yesterday afternoon, mostly along major roads. The fire department says the flare-ups were probably caused by cigarette butts.

Travis County Commissioners put a burn ban back in effect on Tuesday. Cigarettes are not included in the burn ban, but the Austin Police Department will issue tickets for littering to anyone they see improperly dispose of their butts.

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Environment
4:11 pm
Tue June 26, 2012

Burn Ban Back in Effect for Travis County

Fireworks over Auditorium Shores on 2009.
KUT News

With the Fourth of July just nine days away, residents of Travis County can rest assured that fireworks will still be part of their holiday celebrations. But Travis County Commissioners are urging people to use caution.

That's after commissioners voted today to put a burn ban back in effect for unincorporated areas on the advice of fire marshal Hershel Lee. 

While fireworks can still be used and sold for the Fourth of July, they are still banned inside city limits, as is outdoor burning without a permit. 

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Weather
1:52 pm
Thu June 21, 2012

Central Texas in 'Significant' Short-Term Drought

The map on the left shows drought conditions on June 12, 2012. The map on the right (released today) shows drought conditions on June 19, 2012.
U.S. Drought Monitor

The U.S. Drought Monitor released a new map today – and the news is mixed.

For the first time since March of last year, no part of Texas is under the worst stage of drought. But parts of Central Texas are actually drier than they’ve been in the last few months.

The map shows parts of Travis, Williamson, and Milam counties have been elevated from moderate to severe drought.

That’s because June, which is usually the state’s wettest month, has been abnormally dry. In fact, the last five weeks have been the second driest late May to mid-June on record.

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Environment
4:44 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

A Corpse Flower Blooms in Galveston

Morticia the Corpse Flower at Moody Gardens in Galveston.
Moody Gardens

It’s considered to be the world’s largest and most foul smelling flower, and for the fourth time in history, one is blooming in Texas. The Corpse Flower, aka Amorphophallus titanum, began blooming yesterday at the Moody Gardens in Galveston.

“She started cranking out her stench and we compared it to a pile of dead rats,” said Donita Brannon, the horticultural exhibits manager of the Rainforest Pyramid at Moody Gardens. “It was pretty bad.”

The plant’s unusual look and scent has been attracting visitors to the Moody Gardens. “It’s been steady but not unbearable,” Brannon said.

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Environment
5:07 pm
Tue June 12, 2012

Texas Named the Ninth Fastest-Warming State

KUT News

Are those Texas summers feeling increasingly warmer? Don't worry, it's not just you. 

According to a report released today by the Climate Central research group, Texas is ranked as the 9th Fastest Warming State, with average state temperatures increasing at a rate of .575 degrees Fahrenheit per decade. The survey was based on temperatures in the continental United States between 1912 and 2011. 

Though the increase might not seem huge, the Southwest, including Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, is the fastest warming region in the country.  

"That'll translate into increased wildfire risk, make droughts more severe because of the increased heat, and have lots of other adverse effects on the region," said Richard Wiles from Climate Central.  

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water
3:36 pm
Tue June 12, 2012

Cedar Park Urges Water Conservation After Main Damaged

Nick Harris, flickr.com/nickharris1

The City of Cedar Park is asking people to stop watering their lawns and avoid any non-essential water use like washing cars or filling swimming pools.

That’s because a construction crew working on a residential development near Lakeline and Buttercup Creek Boulevards damaged a 36-inch water transmission line today.

Cedar Park says fewer than ten houses are without water, but it’s asking everyone to reduce water use until the line is fixed. The repairs are expected to be done within 48 hours. 

Environment
3:32 pm
Mon June 11, 2012

Texas Helping Out with New Mexico Wildfires

Fires at the White Water Baldy Complex in New Mexico on June 6th, 2012.
White Water Baldy Complex

A little more than nine months after wildfires devastated parts of Central Texas, new fires are spreading through New Mexico, burning over 278,000 acres of forest. Twenty-five states, including Texas, have sent support to help fight the blaze.

April Saginor with the Texas Forest Service says some cities in Texas like San Antonio can afford to send firefighters and aid because the state has fewer fires to battle themselves.

 

“It’s happening, but they’re much smaller than they were last year, and we were able to contain them rather quickly,” she said. “So we’re in good shape right now, but we’re waiting to see what kind of rain we get later this month.”

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Environment
3:41 pm
Thu June 7, 2012

ERCOT Predicts No Power Outages This Summer

The scene in the ERCOT control room.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Since its creation in 1970, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has experienced blackouts (or in its vocabulary, rolling outages,) only three times. With the majority of that burden falling on residential properties, the community has cause for interest – but not concern – according to ERCOT’s leaders.

“We don’t expect this summer to have to resort to rotating outages,” said ERCOT Director of System Planning Warren Lasher. But, he says, “if we have another summer like 2011, the most extreme summer we’ve experienced, then we’re likely to have at least one day in which we start running short on reserves.”

Reserves are generators dedicated to picking up the slack when other generators fail, or when there is a greater electrical demand. ERCOT has enough reserves to generate over 3,000 megawatts (MW). To put that in perspective, one megawatt of electricity can power about 200 Texas homes during the hottest day of the year. Overall, ERCOT has a 74,000 MW capacity.

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LCRA
1:10 pm
Fri May 18, 2012

Grant to Help Some Landowners in Conservation Efforts

Landowners can use matching funding for several types of projects under the Creekside Conservation Program.
Photos courtesy LCRA; collage by Laura Rice, KUT News

Landowners in the lower Colorado River basin have the opportunity to get more money for conservation efforts. The Lower Colorado River Authority received a federal grant that will help landowners reduce soil erosion and increase native plant and animal diversity.

The EPA grant will increase the amount of matching funding for qualified landowners in 11 counties from $10,000 to $15,000.

The LCRA says this program can make a big difference.

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Weather
1:04 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

In Houston, Billboards Go Digital This Hurricane Season

Digital billboards like this one can display emergency alerts.
Photo courtesy Clear Channel Outdoor

The Texas Gulf Coast is preparing for the upcoming hurricane season.

Today emergency and traffic officials tested digital billboards that will provide emergency messages throughout the Houston area.

Drivers saw a message that said, “Emergency Alert: This is only a test.”

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Wildfires
12:40 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

What’s Your Wildfire Risk? New Website Lets You Know

Texans can visualize potential fire conditions at texaswildfirerisk.com.
Image courtesy texaswildfirerisk.com

As wildfire season begins in Central Texas, the Texas Forest Service has launched a new website to let people know what the wildfire risk for their area is.

Texaswildfirerisk.com uses the same data the Forest Service used ahead of last year's devastating fires. The Forest Service's Tom Spencer says now anyone in Texas can see how susceptible their area is to wildfire.

“They can click on the 'what's your risk' tool, click on the map where their home is and it would actually go in and calculate the average risk within about a two mile radius of their home,” says Spencer. “And then give them an idea of what the wildfire risk is to them – whether it's low, moderate, high, very high."

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Environment
11:31 am
Tue April 24, 2012

Government Files First Criminal Charges In BP Oil Spill

Fire boats battle a fire at the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon in April of 2010.
U.S. Coast Guard Getty Images

Originally published on Tue April 24, 2012 1:31 pm

"The first criminal charges in connection with the BP oil spill have been filed against a former BP engineer named Kurt Mix," NPR's Carrie Johnson reports exclusively.

Carrie just told our Newscast unit that Mix has been charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly deleting text messages after the spill. The texts were related to the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf. Mix will make his first appearence in court today.

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