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

Photo by Prashant Maxsteel

The drought presents both good and bad news for Austinites struggling with insect and pest populations. Ants and mosquitos are in decline right now, while spider mites and chinch bugs are thriving.  

Texas Agri-Life entomologist Wizzie Brown says that hot dry conditions are good for some insect populations and bad for others. She says the number of fire ants at ground level and mosquito populations drop during droughts.

Photo by PaddyMurphy

There's a glimmer of hope for the Llano water supply. The city's primary water supply, the Llano River, was about to dry up. Emergency reservoirs would have enough water to supply the city for between 60 and 90 days. But officials have located an underground water source that could ease the water situation.

Llano City Manager Finley deGraffenried says water from a 200-foot-deep well struck yesterday is yielding about 100 gallons per minute, which will help a little.

Photo by KUT News

"I think that I shall never see/A poem as lovely as a tree," wrote Joyce Kilmer almost a century ago. The City of Austin is taking nominations for the loveliest of trees to honor as the 2011 "Tree of the Year."

Today's the last day to nominate a tree to be this year's honoree. The tree can be in any part of Austin. It can be any species of tree, but there are some eligibility requirements.

Photo by agrilifetoday

Calling it “one of the worst droughts in more than a century”, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has named 213 of Texas’ 254 counties as primary natural disaster areas. The measure allows farmers and ranchers to apply for federal disaster aid. The remaining 41 counties also qualify for assistance because they are contiguous.

What is SXSW Eco?

Jun 28, 2011

South by Southwest is adding another conference to its roster of music, film, interactive, and education forums.

It will be called SXSW Eco. The focus will be on finding ways to make humanity more ecologically sustainable. Unlike other SXSW forums, this conference will run from October 4-6. Early tickets are $800.

We called SXSW managing director Roland Swenson to find out more.

KUT News: What is this South by Southwest Eco conference?

Photo by hummyhummy

If you like Dillo Dirt, that repurposed sewer sludge used to condition soil, have we got news for you. The Austin Water utility says it will soon be able to create twice as much Dillo Dirt as before.

Austin Water says it completed a new 15-acre compost pad six months ahead of schedule and $6 million under budget. That will allow it to ramp up Dillo Dirt production from 40,000 to 80,000 cubic feet per year.

Graphic courtesy the EPA

The North Texas Barnett Shale has been added to an Environmental Protection Agency study. The congressionally mandated report will look into potential affects of hydraulic fracturing on water resources.

Photo by phault

One of the great contradictions of Texas is that, while we are the largest emitter of greenhouse gas in the United States, we also generate far more wind power than any other state. Perhaps it’s no surprise then, to find a company pushing to build the largest offshore wind farm in the country is based right here in Austin.

Technically, any offshore wind farm would be the largest in the U.S. That's because none exist yet, even though many projects are in the works. But Austin-based Baryonyx Corporation, with an office in the Littlefield Building on E. 6th St., hopes to construct a 200 turbine wind farm off the Gulf Coast with enough capacity to power 750,000 homes.

Image Courtesy of the Texas Office of the Attorney General

A statement issued today by Attorney General Greg Abbott says the EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions by “timing” and “tailoring” are unlawful and unconstitutional.

Photo by

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro announced today that City Public Service's Deely coal-fired plant will be shut down by 2018.  CPS Energy, San Antonio's publicly-owned utility, will turn to solar power announcing agreements with five investment partners, committing to meet 20% of its energy needs through renewable energy by 2020. 

"Today is the beginning of San Antonio's effort to become the 'new energy economy' city," said Mayor Castro in a live webcast today.

The CPS Deely plant is the first publically-owned coal plant announced to retire in Texas.

Photo courtesy of the LCRA.

Remember those urban legends about about alligators in the sewers?

How about 'gators in Lake Travis?

A fisherman came across a dead alligator on the shores of Lake Travis Tuesday. A spokesperson for the LCRA said the creature measured three to four feet in length (other reports put its size at six feet). It looked as though it was struck by a boat propeller.

Photo by kjoyner666

The city’s and county’s move to ban all fireworks, public and private, for the Fourth of July weekend seem like a bummer to some people, but when you examine at the local drought conditions, it’s hard to blame them.  The US Drought Monitor Map shows the entire region is in “exceptional” drought, which is the worst category they have.

Photo by jdeeringdavis

Water fountains at the University of Texas at Austin will go dry on Monday as UT begins implementing voluntary Stage 2 water conservation measures. UT expects doing this will save more than 300,000 gallons each month on the 40 acres.

Photo by Mose Buchele for KUT News

Updated for Correction

Austin is one of ten model cities for environmentally friendly infrastructure, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Specifically, the EPA says the Lundelius-McDaniels Water Quality Pond – a natural water filter in South Austin that removes pollutants from storm runoff draining back into the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer.

Photo by Photography JW

The board of the Lower Colorado River Authority wasted no time in naming a long-time staffer to take over as the organization's general manager, following the resignation of Tom Mason (pictured) a week ago.

Photo by dasroofless

The controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to remove oil and gas from beneath shale rock has faced environmental criticism for generating loud noise, stamping a foot print in the wilderness, and pumping large amounts of undisclosed chemicals deep into the earth. Now the practice being used to unlock vast reserves of domestic energy is coming under fire for another reason: the amount of water it uses.

Photo by bondidwhat

As temperatures soar into the 100s again this summer in Austin, many homeowners will be cranking up their air conditioners. However, unknown to many, the desirable, cooler air they’re breathing could be harmful.

Richard Corsi, a professor at the University of Texas who studies air quality, notices that many U.S. homeowners, particularly those living in warm climates, are sealing up their houses by fixing cracks around their windows, replacing old weather strips, and so on.

LCRA Boss Quits

Jun 7, 2011
Photo by Lower Colorado River Authority

The man who has been in charge of the Lower Colorado River Authority for the past three-and-a-half years is resigning. LCRA general manager Tom Mason’s last day on the job will be June 30, according to a news release from the agency.

Photo by John K

The federal government will be at work this summer on some proposals that could affect waterways you may be familiar with, including the Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs. The US Environmental Protection Agency says Supreme Court rulings over the last decade have weakened the Clean Water Act and removed some waterways from federal protection.

According to the EPA, under current Clean Water Act regulations, many small streams that feed into larger streams, rivers, bays and coastal waters are no longer protected by the Act. This means polluting into these waters doesn’t require a permit. The EPA is examining how to change those regulations to ensure waterways are protected.

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

The Environmental Protection Agency’s rules limiting vehicle emissions are based upon a “legally flawed” conclusion that greenhouse gases are harmful to the public, the State of Texas argued in a brief filed today with the D.C. Court of Appeals on behalf of nine states and dozens of shipping and manufacturing companies.