Energy & Environment

Environment
9:54 am
Wed August 15, 2012

Panel Appointed to Review Controversial Fracking Study

A fracking study led by UT professor Charles Groat is being reviewed, in light of his ties to companies that engage in the practice.
University of Texas Energy Institute

The University of Texas at Austin has put together a panel of three experts to review a professor’s disputed study on hydraulic fracking.

UT professor Charles Groat’s study stated there’s little or no evidence that fracking’s connected with groundwater contamination. But the results of the study came into question after a watchdog group noted Groat has received money from a company that does fracking.

StateImpact Texas shares the make up of the panel:

Read more
Environment
3:43 pm
Mon August 13, 2012

A 'Crazy' Ant Invasion?

Rasberry crazy ants can cause problems because they multiply very quickly.
Tom Rasberry, rasberrycrazyants.com

The Texas AgriLife Extension Office is tracking an insect new to Central Texas – a type of ant. It doesn’t sting like the fire ant but it can cause its own set of problems.

It's called the Rasberry crazy ant.

No, it doesn't like raspberries. The breed was actually discovered by a guy whose last name is Rasberry. And the "crazy" part? Well the reddish-brown, eighth-of-an-inch long ant is a prodigious breeder. Which means a small hill can turn into a full on home invasion very quickly.

Read more
weather
2:17 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

El Niño More Likely To Return This Summer

Surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño creates unusually warm temperatures in the equatorial Pacific.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

A weather pattern that could bring cooler temperatures and more rain to Texas is likely to develop this month or next, according to climate forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“There is increased confidence for a weak-to-moderate El Niño during the Northern Hemisphere fall and winter 2012-13,” NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center said. “El Niño conditions are likely to develop during August or September 2012.” In June, NOAA predicted only a 50 percent likelihood that El Niño would return in the second half of the year. El Niño creates unusually warm temperatures in the equatorial Pacific.

NOAA also updated its summer hurricane forecast today, suggesting we may have a “busy second half” of hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin. They expect 12 to 17 tropical storms by November, including five to eight hurricanes, of which two to three could strengthen into major hurricanes. Tropical Storm Ernesto is currently spinning in the Gulf of Mexico and headed to a flood-prone inland area in the Los Tuxtlas region of Mexico, the AP reports. 

As StateImpact Texas points out, Texas needs just the right kind of storms, moist enough to drench the dry zones, but not powerful enough to erode the coastline, which is currently receding at an average rate of six feet per year

The Two-Way
3:47 pm
Wed August 8, 2012

July Warmest Month on Record For U.S., But Not For Texas

Only one color was needed to show where July ranks in terms of hottest months on record.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Originally published on Wed August 8, 2012 12:14 pm

Read more
Environment
2:18 pm
Wed August 8, 2012

Pflugerville Bee Attack Has Central Texans on Alert

Rains this summer have boosted insect populations, including bees.
flickr.com/botterillgallery

A 40-year old man is now in stable condition after he was stung by bees about 300 times this morning in Pflugerville.

The Texas AgriLife Extension Office says they’re seeing higher populations of most types of insects this year – including aphids, cicadas and bees.

“Since we’ve been having more rain this year, there have been more plants available as a food source and the honey bees have an opportunity to collect nectar so there do tend to me more numbers – I’ve been getting more calls on bees than I have in the past few years," Extension Program Specialist Wizzie Brown says.

Read more
Environment
12:42 pm
Tue August 7, 2012

Burn Ban Back in Place

It's back: A countywide burn ban is in place through Labor Day weekend.
Flickr user Dawn Huczek, http://bit.ly/Nzgxld

A burn ban is back in effect in Travis County. Fire Marshal Hershel Lee recommended the ban be put back in place during a county commissioners’ meeting this morning.

Central Texas had been without a burn ban since mid-July.

But Lee says the last few weeks have been pretty dry and the forecast looks like it will bring more heat and little rain.

Read more
Environment
5:12 pm
Fri July 27, 2012

Remembering Lady Bird Johnson This Weekend

Lady Bird Johnson and her husband, former President Lyndon Baines Johnson, contributed to the beautification of the nation's highways.
Lady Bird Wildflower Center

It’s been one hundred years since the birth of the legendary Lady Bird Johnson.

The Texas First Lady's time in the White House was marked by several environmental conservation and beautification efforts – a cause she pursued locally after leaving Washington with the foundation of the National Wildflower Research Center and her work beautifying Town Lake (which was since renamed in her honor).

The Wildflower Center, which bears Lady Bird’s name, remembers Mrs. Johnson this Sunday with a day-long tribute. Admission is free, with doors opening at 9 a.m.

Read more
Environment
3:26 pm
Thu July 26, 2012

Drought Map Shows No Significant Changes

This week's drought conditions (R) remain steady compared to the previous week.
U.S. Drought Monitor

As far as the Texas drought goes, no news might be good news.

After steadily improving for months, the U.S. Drought Monitor map shows statewide drought conditions have reached a plateau.

Heavy rains two weeks ago brought more than 10 percent of the state out of any drought. That number remains steady.

Read more
Environment
9:00 am
Wed July 25, 2012

Outside Review for Controversial Fracking Study

Charles “Chip” Groat discussing his study, “Separating Fact From Fiction in Shale Gas Development,” in a video from February.
University of Texas Energy Institute

A University of Texas study disputing connections between the oil and gas industry practice of fracking and groundwater contamination is receiving new scrutiny, with the revelation the study’s leader failed to disclose significant financial ties to a drilling company that engages in the practice.

As KUT News reported in February, the report from the UT Energy Institute, “Separating Fact From Fiction in Shale Gas Development,” stated that fracking, when executed properly, doesn’t contaminate groundwater. However, contamination may occur as the result of above ground spills or mishandling of wastewater.

StateImpact Texas, a joint reporting partnership of KUT News and NPR, has followed the story. On Monday, highlighting a report from watchdog group  Public Accountablitiy Initiative, it reported study leader Charles “Chip” Groat had extensive industry ties:

Read more
Weather
1:36 pm
Thu July 19, 2012

Drought Conditions Improve Across Central Texas

The drought conditions have improved across Central and Eastern Texas from the July 10 map (left) to the July 17 map (right).
U.S. Drought Monitor

Recent rain has lifted much of the Austin area from “severe” to “moderate” drought.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows an improvement across almost all of Central Texas. Williamson County went from extreme drought down to severe. And areas around Bastrop have improved to abnormally dry.

In fact, 12 percent of the state – much of Eastern Texas – is now classified as completely out of drought conditions.

Victor Murphy is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. He says it will still be a while before all of Texas sees long-term drought recovery.

Read more
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.

Read more
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."

Read more
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.”

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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. 

Read more

Pages