Energy & Environment

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

The National Weather Services 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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.”

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

You've probably heard of compost – that thick chocolate-colored stuff that's an organic gardener's best friend and supplies plants with all kinds of succulent nutrients.

Updated drought maps show the drought has eased across Texas in the past week. But the lingering effects persist.

Quoting "a White House official," CNN and USA Today are reporting that in a speech tomorrow President Obama will push for fast-tracking the construction of the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline.

USA Today reports:

Image courtesy U.S. Geological Survey

Tech blog Mashable has created a Storify timeline culling links and social media updates on the recent Mexico earthquake, and its reverberations in the United States. We've embedded it below. 

The USGS says an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.4 hit southwest Mexico today.

The United States Geological Survey says it was 6.2 miles deep and about 120 miles east of Acapulco.

We'll have more on this story as it develops.

Update at 3:54 p.m. ET. Back To Normal:

NPR's Jason Beaubien, reporting from the Zocalo area of Mexico City, says officials report no deaths and no major damage.

Photo by ramk13 http://www.flickr.com/photos/ramk13/

The City of Austin has lifted a burn ban for all city parks. You can grill in designated areas, but campfires are only allowed at Emma Long Metropolitan Park.

Victor Ovalle is with Austin Parks and Recreation. He says recent rainfall has improved drought conditions in the area, but s park-goers should still be careful.

“We’re asking the public to be very careful when they’re out," Ovalle said. "There’s still a lot of timber in the area, in our parks, and so we ask them not to leave their fires unattended, to keep a source of water nearby, and before leaving the site, making sure the fire is completely extinguished."

shannonpatrick17/flickr

Just days after a Texas farmer’s restraining order against Keystone XL pipeline builder TransCanada was lifted, the Alberta company announced it is starting work on a portion of the pipeline stretching from Oklahoma to Texas.

The company announced today it was reapplying for a permit to route the pipeline through Nebraska. Concerns over the route through Nebraska’s environmentally-sensitive Sand Hills region lead in part to rejection of TransCanada’s earlier application.

But TransCanada also announced it would commence building the southernmost portion of the pipeline -- from Cushing, Oklahoma to Texas ports at the Gulf of Mexico -- while it waits on permitting for the northern portion of the line, which requires presidential approval.

Image courtesy National Weather Service

We know the old adage about Texas weather: If you don't like it, just wait five minutes. 

But yesterday's unseasonably high February temperatures still came as a surprise to many Austinites, and more warmth is on the way today. 

The National Weather Service says the regional warming streak will continue. It predicts "partly sunny and unseasonably warm" weather and says "highs will be in the 80s" today. "Normal high temperatures for this time of year are generally in the 60s," the NWS notes. 

That said, today’s heat won’t last. NWS forecasts a cold front hitting the Hill Country this evening, with lows in the 40s and a cool, mild weekend. Guess there’s something to that old adage after all. 

Photo courtesy .facebook.com/pages/Skip-The-Plastic/242542302446854

In its short history, Austin’s proposed disposable bag ban has already seen its share of controversy:  A series of stops and starts, recent revisions, and more.   

But Austin’s far from the only city considering such a measure. In fact, the Texas town of Corpus Christi is also considering a similar proposal.

Image courtesy fossil.energy.gov

A newly-released report on fracking – the practice of pumping hydraulic fracturing fluid into wells to break up and extract oil shale and natural gas deposits – has caused something of a stir in Texas.

Image by National Weather Service

You may want to consider avoiding the roads tomorrow morning. The National Weather Service says a "wintry mix" of weather is in the forecast for much of Central and South Central Texas. The NWS says "no significant accumulations of ice or snow are expected" but that "model timing and precipitation amount uncertainties remain."

The worst single-year drought in Texas history has caused more than $5 billion in agricultural losses. Doris Steubing is a cattle rancher in Maxwell, about 30 miles south of Austin. We sent freelance videographer Jeff Heimsath to her ranch to ask how she's getting by.

The Austin City Council is holding a special-called work session this morning to tackle Austin Energy’s proposed rate increases.

Council got an earful from citizens opposed to the increase at their last meeting. Since then, Mayor Lee Leffingwell has said he too opposes the increase as drafted.

Photo by Teresa Vieira for KUT News

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce took aim at the Obama administration this morning, with a call for the president to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would end at the Texas Gulf Coast.

Chamber president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue claimed in his annual “State of American Business” address that “This project has passed every environmental test. There is no legitimate reason—none at all—to subject it to further delay.”

But the National Resources Defense Council says the Chamber is waging a “disinformation campaign” on the pipeline’s behalf.

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