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

Dick Peterson

Austin's recent rains have caused a fair amount of trouble. But some folks made out like bandits during the recent deluge.

Many urban rain collectors watched recent downpours overwhelm their rain barrels and cisterns. It raises a question: Can too much rain be a bad thing, even for rainwater harvesters?

Most rain harvesters say: Nope.

Karen Collins, who collects rain at her home in Austin and on farmland north of Liberty Hill, is optimistic about the surge in rain. “It’s wonderful,” she says. “My tanks are completely full. I am in great shape. There are times in the summer when I don’t have any rainwater.”

Emily Mathis for KUT News

Update: While Central Texas did not receive another deluge of rain like it saw over the weekend, rainfall Tuesday night and Wednesday morning still created dangerous flooding and driving conditions that forced some road closures, and left Austin’s parks shuttered until at least later this afternoon.

An off-duty APD officer died earlier this morning in a collision, according to KXAN.

Several low water crossings closed this morning, but as of now, they have all reopened. City of Austin and Travis County officials ask drivers to proceed with caution, and urge drivers not to cross flooded roads.

TCEQ

This is part two of a series devoted to looking at the infrastructure of dams in Texas, and what can be done to improve it. You can find part one here.

In 2008, the Texas State Auditor’s office released the kind of report that keeps public officials awake at night.  It found that state regulators were not ensuring the proper maintenance of thousands of dams in Texas. The audit found that state inspectors had never visited hundreds of dams that could cause loss of life if they failed.

National Weather Service

Update: The Red Cross is keeping an eye on weather conditions in Central Texas over the next few days. So far, they’ve responded by distributing supplies like clean-up kits.

“We are working closely with local emergency management to respond and assist families who have been affected by flooding in their homes,” Red Cross Central Texas Region CEO Marty McKellips says in a statement.

The Red Cross shares four tips for making it through extreme weather:

TCEQ

This is part one of a StateImpact Texas series devoted to looking at the infrastructure of dams in Texas, and what can be done to improve it.

Of the 1,880 dams inspected by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since 2008, 245 were found to be in bad condition, according to the TCEQ. Around 2000 of the state’s dams were built with federal help in the wake of the great drought of the 1950s. Almost all of those are now past or nearing their projected 50 year lifespan, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Statistics like these don't come as a surprise to the people who work with dams in the state of Texas.

Lower Colorado River Authority

Parts of Central Texas saw as much as 12 inches of rain over the weekend. Water levels in the Highland Lakes  rose slightly, but the storm was far from a drought-buster.

Lakes Travis and Buchanan remain only about one-third full. 

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The government shutdown has halted the federal investigation into the West Fertilizer Plant explosion. The explosion in April killed 15 people and injured hundreds of others.

“Some of the brightest scientists in the world are home today rather than doing their work to protect, and give us information so that we can have the right rules and regulations to protect our environment,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, said during a press conference yesterday. “The monitoring and enforcement is not being done as it should be done.” Cardin chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife.

The ranks of furloughed workers includes most employees on the Chemical Safety Board, which investigates industrial accidents such as the West Fertilizer Plant explosion.

flickr.com/tarsands78

Beginning today, a total of 680 Austin apartment complexes – serving approximately 140,000 households – must offer recycling.

It's the second phase of the City of Austin’s Universal Recycling Ordinance, affecting businesses and multi-family residences, which kicks in today. Here’s who’s affected:

  • Apartments and condominiums with 50 or more dwelling units
  • Commercial offices that are 75,000 square feet or larger
www.fcps.edu

The extent of the environmental damage in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the BP oil disaster is largely unknown to the public; much of the data remains sealed because of litigation. But now scientists at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi are shedding important new light on the subject. And the news is not good. 

KUT News

Texas children are suing the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, claiming the TCEQ should have to protect the quality of the air the same way it’s required to protect the quality of water.

As part of a nationwide movement, the youth are asking the agency to protect water under the public trust doctrine – the historic idea that the state is responsible for the quality of a shared resource.

National Weather Service

Update: Heading home? Public safety officials remind Austinites to drive safely, and turn around at all high water crossings.

Rain is expected to continue into tomorrow, keeping the area under a Flash Flood Watch at least until 7 a.m. tomorrow.

I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

Texas policymakers searching for ways to curb energy use across their rapidly growing state might want to examine efforts in their capital city.

Austin is among large U.S. cities doing the most to conserve energy, according to a study released Tuesday by a national group that promotes energy efficiency. The Washington D.C.-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy analyzed conservation efforts across the country’s 34 most populous cities, ranking Austin sixth behind Boston, Portland, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle.

I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

Swimmers and salamanders can continue their peaceful coexistence at Barton Springs Pool.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is granting the City of Austin a new 20-year permit, keeping the pool open to the public while protecting the habitats of both the Barton Springs Salamander and the Austin Blind Salamander.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrgarin/3381707791/

When the temperature at Camp Mabry ticked up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit sometime after 2 p.m. this afternoon, it marked the 40th day this year of triple digit temperatures in Austin.

That’s more than the 35 triple digit days we saw last year but still not as high as the record-breaking 90 triple digit days in 2011. The average number of triple digit days recorded annually at Camp Mabry is 13.

Texas is expected to have sufficient levels of stored power to serve peak demands this fall and winter. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas released its Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy on Tuesday.

Carlos 'n Charlie's restaurant on Lake Travis in Austin, Texas, will be having its last last call on Monday. But don't bother coming by boat.

The restaurant has been a lakeside hotspot since it opened in 1995. Back then, docking at the restaurant's wharf was a popular way to take in the party atmosphere, which part-owner Pete Clark describes as like "a cheap Spring break movie."

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

It’s another Ozone Action Day in Central Texas. People with asthma and emphysema, the elderly and children should stay indoors today. The bad air puts Austin another step closer to possible environmental sanctions. 

High temperatures and low wind, when combined with pollution from cars and electricity production, boost ozone levels in Central Texas. That’s why Deana Altenhoff is asking everyone to do what they can to keep additional pollution out of the air today. 

Dr. David Hills

Meet two of the newest creatures to receive federal Endangered Species Act protection: the Austin Blind Salamander and the Jollyville Plateau Salamander.

The Austin Blind Salamander – sightless, due to living deep in the Edwards Aquifer that feeds Barton Springs – was listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Jollyville Plateau Salamander, native to streams and karst formations in Travis and Williamson Counties, was listed as threatened this week.

flickr.com/StuSeeger

Update: Today's the third Ozone Action Day of the year. Austin remains dangerously close to falling out of attainment of the clean air standard of 75 parts of ozone per billion. At last check, Austin was at 72.

“Being a non-attainment area it’s much harder to recruit business. It also accounts for a lot of absenteeism in schools because a lot of children have asthma and air pollution has been found to directly exacerbate asthma in children," Deanna Altenhoff, Executive Director of Clean Air of Central Texas, said.

National Weather Service/National Hurricane Center

A tropical system is developing in the Gulf of Mexico that could have an affect on Austin weather in the days ahead.

Aaron Treadway, a forecaster at the National Weather Service, says computer models have been "all over the place" in recent days – but data now suggests the system’s heading toward the Texas coast, somewhere from Northern Mexico to Louisiana.

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