Energy & Environment

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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Environment
5:16 pm
Fri April 20, 2012

Earth Day Weekend Roundup

Starting tomorrow and lasting through Monday, Austin celebrates Earth Day.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/usnationalarchives

Once a hippie holiday, now a fully mainstream observance (especially in Austin), Earth Day 2012 is coming this Sunday.  Get your credit card and your Djembe drum ready, because here in town, there are plenty of ways to celebrate Mother Earth, and give a little something back.

SHOPPING

Over 110 Austin businesses will donate five percent of their profits to environmental causes, such as Friends of Barton Springs Pool and the Hill Country Conservancy.  That makes Sunday a great time to do grocery shopping (Whole Foods and Wheatsville Food Co-Op are participating), go to the cleaners (at Eco Clean Garment and Laundry), or take your pet to the vet (at Austin Vet Care), to name a few participants. 

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Environment
3:50 pm
Thu April 19, 2012

How to Opt Out of Receiving Phone Books and Junk Mail

Austinites can opt-out of receiving mailings like phone books.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/19melissa68

It’s often remarked that in the Internet age, the phone book is obsolete. And now, with a few keystrokes, Austinites can opt out of receiving them.

Austin Resource Recovery has partnered with the nonprofit organization Catalog Choice to offer a registry where citizens can elect to stop receiving phone books and certain types of junk mail – the dead-tree version of a “Do Not Call” list. You can register at https://austin.catalogchoice.org.

Aside from the environmental impact, the city notes the cost savings it may realize from saving on cleanup of unwanted litter. “More than 100 billion pieces of unsolicited mail are received by Americans each year—and municipalities foot the bill for waste collection and disposal,” the city notes in a release announcing the initiative.

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Environment
1:57 pm
Wed April 18, 2012

Poll: Most Americans Link Climate Change To Unusual Weather Events

In this Aug 3, 2011 file photo, Texas State Park police officer Thomas Bigham walks across the cracked lake bed of O.C. Fisher Lake, in San Angelo, Texas.
Tony Gutierrez AP

Originally published on Wed April 18, 2012 1:25 pm

Most Americans believe that global warming has played a role in a series of unusual weather events during the past year.

A poll released today by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that 72 percent of Americas believe global warming played a role in the very warm winter the United States just experienced.

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Energy
8:26 am
Tue April 17, 2012

U.S. Has A Natural Gas Problem: Too Much Of It

Oil field workers drill into the Gypsum Hills near Medicine Lodge, Kan. Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to coax out oil and gas has led to a natural gas boom that the U.S. market is having trouble absorbing.
Orlin Wagner AP

Originally published on Tue April 17, 2012 6:43 am

There's a boom in natural gas production in the United States, a boom so big the market is having trouble absorbing it all.

The unusually warm weather this winter is one reason for the excess, since it reduced the need for people to burn gas to heat their homes. A bigger reason, however, is the huge increase in gas production made possible by new methods of coaxing gas out of shale rock formations.

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Weather
4:29 pm
Fri April 13, 2012

Severe Weather Possibility This Weekend

The National Weather Service says "strong thunderstorms with locally heavy rain" may hit by Sunday.
Photo courtesy National Weather Service

The weird weather systems that produced hail by the foot in the Texas Panhandle this week is hanging around. And while Austin isn’t expected to bear  the brunt of severe weather, it still could make for a wet weekend.

The National Weather Service writes that a tornado outbreak is likely across the nation’s midsection this weekend. A technical version of its forecast can be found here, but on its Facebook page, NWS writes:

The Storm Prediction Center is forecasting a high risk of severe weather, including strong tornadoes, over Kansas and Oklahoma on Saturday evening into the overnight hours. The overall risk area includes Nebraska, much of Iowa, western Illinois, northwest Missouri, and northern Texas.

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Nature
11:19 am
Fri April 13, 2012

Check Out the World's Largest Summer Bat Colony

The Bracken bats, seen leaving their cave at dusk.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/jenbooks

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.

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Environment
10:14 am
Fri April 13, 2012

Will the Amarillo Hail Storm Continue?

This incredible photo of hail north of Amarillo has generates lots of talk online.
Photo courtesy National Weather Service

A freak storm dumped a whopping four feet of hail on part of North Amarillo this week, says the National Weather Service.

KUT News’ StateImpact Texas project noted the strange occurrence, news of which proliferated across Facebook thanks to an incredible photo the National Weather Service office in Amarillo shared: an area firefighter standing next to a makeshift retaining wall filled to the brim with hailstones.

StateImpact Texas writes:

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. 

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Environment
5:01 pm
Wed April 4, 2012

Kyle Calls Off Water Restrictions

A river over the Edwards Aquifer, which supplies water to Kyle.
Photo courtesy edwardsaquifer.org

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.

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Environment
12:50 pm
Wed April 4, 2012

Austin Water Announces $125 Million Repair Program

Get ready to see a lot more of this: Austin Water announced a five-year pipe repair program today.
Photo by Carlos Morales for KUT News

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.”

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Environment
9:22 am
Fri March 30, 2012

Studies Show Why Insecticides Are Bad News For Bees

One class of insecticides makes an entire corn plant poisonous to many insects that feed on it, including bees.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu March 29, 2012 4:33 pm

The search for the killer of America's bees is a little bit like an Agatha Christie novel.

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