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

Four years after it shut down, deconstruction is set to begin on the Holly Street Power Plant in East Austin. A “first-bolt removal ceremony” is planned for Saturday at 10 a.m. and will include city officials and neighbors.

Environmental justice groups such as People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER) fought for years to have the plant decommissioned, complaining of increased cancer rates in the surrounding residential neighborhood and a loss of hearing caused by the constant noise from the plant.

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.

Eddie Seal, Texas Tribune

A 4.8 magnitude earthquake struck an area of South Texas today that is a center point for natural gas and oil production in the Eagle Ford Shale. The quake’s epicenter was here in the unincorporated community of Campbellton in Atascosa County near Karnes County. You can see numerous wells in the county in this map from the Texas Railroad Commission. (Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly placed the epicenter in Karnes County.)

A University of Texas seismologist says hydraulic fracturing itself does not cause earthquakes. But he says earthquakes have been associated with the disposal of fracking fluids.

Photo by adav

The plastic grocery bag has few friends at Austin’s City Hall. Council voted in July to move forward with a plan that would ban single-use plastic bags at local stores, putting Austin in the company of cities like San Francisco, Portland, San Jose, Washington, DC and even Brownsville, Texas.

But the specifics of the plan are still being ironed out. Next Monday, city officials hope to hear from you on how it should be done. They’re holding a public input session from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Austin Energy building.

KUT’s Matt Largey talked about it with Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

You like Barton Springs Pool? So does a small, endangered amphibian. But unlike you, the Barton Springs Salamander is legally protected by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. If the city wants to keep operating the pool, it needs to renew a permit with the federal government that explains how Austin will protect the slithery little creature.

The current permit was issued in 1998 and based on this Habitat Conservation Plan. That permit expires in October 2013. But the review process takes a long time, so the city wants to submit its application soon to stave off closing Barton Springs Pool, even temporarily.

Photo by furyksx

Pumpkins are kind of like fruit cakes. They only sell for about six weeks out of the entire year. And it’s usually around the time specials like this one air on television.

But the great pumpkin might be harder to find these days, according to agricultural experts.

Photo by KUT News

FEMA is trying to get the word out to Texas wildfire victims that, if they get a letter saying they're ineligible for federal aid, it's may not be the final word.

Ericka Lopez is a FEMA Public Information Officer in Bastrop. She says people can submit a formal appeal within 60 days, if they believe the feds made error.

Photo by Mose Buchele for KUT News

More than one-third of timber damaged by wildfires in East Texas has been salvaged and resold by property owners. Separate wildfires across the eastern part of the state in June scorched over 30,000 acres. The salvaged timber will be repackaged and sold as building materials, paper, and fuel. The value of the resold goods is expected to exceed $100 million.

Photo by KUT News.

Texas longhorn cattle descended from cattle brought in by Spanish explorers. Today some make their home at state parks and historic sites. But budget cuts and the drought could send state-owned longhorns off to market.

Talks are under way on the fate of nearly 400 longhorns living on state lands, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials say. The herds may be removed or reduced this fall, a prospect that upsets longhorn enthusiasts.

JD Hancock/Flickr

The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) held a public hearing regarding possible water utility bill increases.

Monarch proposed to raise water utility prices by 62.3% and wastewater rates by 33.6%. The changes would apply to Pflugerville residents who receive their water from Windermere Water Company. The company was recently purchased by Monarch. The Pflugerville City Council met in August and suspended the rate hikes for ninety days.

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.

Photo courtesy Valero

The federal Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed scaling back some requirements of its cross-state rule for reducing air pollution — a rule that has incited the fury of Texas officials including Gov. Rick Perry.

Photo couresty of Ohio Office of Redevelopment at

A Gulf Coast landowner may sell groundwater to the builders of the proposed coal-fired power plant White Stallion in Matagorda County. The landowner has submitted an application to drill a well that would provide 1,199 acre feet of water a year to the power plant.

Photo by Robert W. Hart for the Texas Tribune

To meet the needs of its growing population, drought-stricken Texas urgently needs more water infrastructure totaling $231 billion to augment water supplies and treatment, wastewater processing and flood control by 2060, according to a draft of the state water plan that was released last month.

Logo courtesy of SXSWeco

We all know about the South by Southwest music, film and interactive festivals but SXSW is delving into more civic engagement events.

It was just this past March when SXSW organizers launched their first ever SXSWedu for teachers, education researchers and state leaders. That education conference came at time when Texas lawmakers were laying out big cuts to public education.

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News.

Opponents of a plan to build a pipeline from the Canadian oil sands to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast say newly released emails show an uncomfortably cozy relationship between a lobbyist and employees at the U.S. State Department.

Greg Westfall/flickr

Bow hunting season for White-tailed deer starts tomorrow in Texas. The ongoing extreme drought has culled deer population in many parts of the state. Nevertheless, Chris Mitchell with Texas Parks and Wildlife says the department wants hunters to take their full bag limit of deer this season. And that's less about sport and more about survival of the species.

Photo by Austin Energy

The City of Austin says it will become the largest local government in the United States to be powered entirely by renewable electricity when it flicks the switch on Saturday. The move is estimated to cost taxpayers $6 million over ten years.

“It’s a commitment you make to further the goal of reducing carbon emissions,” Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell told KUT News. “That’s a value to everybody that lives in the city.”

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

Every five years, the Texas Water Development Board publishes a water plan for the state. The 295-page draft of the 2012 plan, published last week in the midst of the worst-ever single-year drought Texas has ever experienced, is a sobering read.

"The primary message of the 2012 state water plan is a simple one," the introduction states. "In serious drought conditions, Texas does not and will not have enough water to meet the needs of its people, and its businesses, and its agricultural enterprises."

The report is packed with data and projections, but a few stand out. The state population, now 25 million, is expected to increase to 46 million by 2060. During that time, existing water supplies will fall 10 percent as the Ogallala and other aquifers are depleted.

Photo by KUT News.

An Austin-based plumbing company is taking on an ambitious job to battle the ongoing drought. Radiant Plumbing says it can save the city three million gallons of water per month. It plans on doing this by replacing one thousand leaky toilet flappers for free. Sarah Casebier is one of Radiant Plumbing's co-owners.

“If we wanted to do something that makes a difference, there’s not a lot of things that a plumber can do," she told KUT News. "But this is something we can do.”