environment

Jason French, Texas Tribune

It might not be the safest week to mention this, but here goes:

The Texas longhorns owe their survival in large part to Oklahoma.

Oklahoma and the federal government, that is.

We’re talking cattle, of course, not football. Here’s what happened: A century ago, the longhorn breed teetered on the edge of extinction. After the Civil War, the great herds that had lumbered up the Chisholm Trail from Texas to the railways depots in Kansas for shipment east had suddenly fallen out of favor. Texas ranchers had become enamored with Herefords and Angus, which grew faster and were often less cantankerous than the lean, hardy longhorn, which was descended from Spanish and Anglo cattle and had sometimes roamed wild.

KUT News

This November, Austin voters will be asked to decide on 18 propositions, including seven bond propositions totaling $385 million. KUT News is examining all seven of the spending propositions; today we take a look at Prop 13, which would spend $30 million purchasing land and conservation easements for open space and water quality protection. 

According to the city, the bond would help preserve Austin's water quality by funding land buys in the Barton Springs Watershed, where water filters into the Edwards Aquifer.

“It’s preserving the lands, keeping it from urbanization, which inevitably leads to some degradation of water quality,” says Michael Personett,  assistant director for the city’s Watershed Protection program.

The bond would also add to the city's undeveloped space by funding the purchase of land conservation easements in environmentally sensitive areas. Easements are essentially agreements between the city and landowners that keep land in the hands of its original owner while preventing outside development. The owner gets some extra cash, and the city gets assurances water quality won't deteriorate in that area.

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Mincheol Kwon is a visiting reporter at KUT. He hails from CBS-Christian Broadcasting System, a South Korean radio station in Seoul. He is also studying audio journalism at the Journalism School of Texas State University at San Marcos.

Planning a summertime trip to Texas? It makes sense to worry about the heat. But you might also give some thought to exactly the opposite.

“I have to live with the cold!” said UT graduate student Taehyun Cho on a recent afternoon.

He’s talking about Texans’ tendency to crank up the AC to near-arctic levels.

"Exposed to the heat [outside] and then suddenly to the cold, my biological rhythm has broken,” said Cho. “Today I was in class shivering."

The extreme fluctuations between indoor and outdoor temperatures may seem normal to many locals, but it strikes people from other cultures not just as strange, but as unhealthy. In Korea, they even have a word for it. It roughly translates as “air conditioning-itis.”

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The second-annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Eco conference comes to an end today.

SXSW Eco is an offshoot of the wildly-popular SXSW festival that takes over Austin for a good chunk of March each year, and has since grown from its roots in music and film to encompass technology and education.

SXSW Eco is still a comparatively smaller affair, viewed against the whopping $190 million in estimated economic impact SXSW brings overall. But this year’s festival expanded its focus onto five themes: Scalable, ecological solutions; collaborations between disparate communities on global issues like climate change; advances in technology and design; green economics; and visions for an environmentally sustainable future.

The team with KUT News’ StateImpact Texas has been filing dispatches from Eco, starting with an interview with Michael E. Mann, a Penn State University professor whose work includes the iconic “hockey stick” graph showing a rise in global temperatures since the dawn of the industrial age – work that his made him a target of climate change deniers.

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The ACEEE (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy) has released its 2012 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard. According to their findings, Texas didn't do so well.

The report ranks the 50 states and the District of Columbia according to their policies and programs regarding the use of energy in buildings, transportation, and industry. This year, Texas is ranked #33

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The Second Annual SXSW Eco Conference and Festival kicks off today and is aptly named Evolving the Environmental Conversation.

The three day conference will bring in experts from all over the globe who are working to find sustainable environmental solutions. Attendees will get top-level presentations and discussions with professionals in the public, private and academic sectors. SXSW Eco hopes that the participants will gain access to information that will allow them to both collaborate and advance solutions for the challenges facing the environment, economy and society. 

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A series of small earthquakes in the Dallas region over the weekend are reviving discussion of the link between quakes and the oil and gas industry practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Fracking is the practice of pumping hydraulic fracturing fluid into wells to break up and extract oil shale and natural gas deposits. Just how fracking is linked to earthquakes is a hot topic around the country, Texas especially.

The Dallas Morning News reports two quakes rattled the Dallas region on Saturday, followed by another quake on Sunday. Both quakes were in the Barnett Shale, which is rich in natural gas.

StateImpact Texas writes that it’s not the actual act of fracking itself that leads to earthquakes, but rather the disposal of the fracking fluid remaining after the process, which is usually shot into disposal wells deep underground.

Callie Hernandez for KUT News

The frontage road of Interstate 35 between FM 1327 and Slaughter Lane is expected to be closed for much of the day after a fuel spill this morning.

For much of the morning, all northbound lanes of the highway were also closed in the area — causing major traffic delays.

The Austin Fire Department says an estimated 700 gallons of fuel spilled on the roadway when an 18-wheeler overturned, creating a need for careful cleanup that shut the highway through morning rush hour.

But AFD Battalion Chief Palmer Buck says, in years past, the closures would have been even longer because the department would have had to wait for the trucking company to send a cleanup team.

“The Austin Fire Department is one of the few teams that has the equipment and the expertise to do this," Buck says. "A decade ago, we would have had to wait six to eight hours before the operation even started, so we would be talking about sometime this evening before we got the roads open."

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Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated 2012 is SXSW Eco's first year. KUT News regrets the error. 

SXSW Eco will kick-off next week. But it's a niche that the Renewable Energy Roundup and Green Living Fair in Fredericksburg first tapped into 12 years ago.

The 2012 festival is this weekend, from Sept. 29 to 30.

The roundup will concentrate not so much on policy but on practice —what Texans can do everyday to make the world a little greener. Panels include "How to Grow Your Own Groceries," "Growing Herbs and Making Your Own Vinegar,"  "Hot Attics: Turning a Problem into a Resource," and even "Green Smoothies."

There are also hands-on workshops about collecting rainwater and solar energy.

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Central Texas is under an Ozone Watch today and tomorrow.

Watches are usually issued during the summer months when the temperatures are higher and humidity is lower.  And so far this year the area is already dangerously close to exceeding EPA standards. Austin sits at a 74 parts-per-billion average for ozone. If that average jumps to 75 PPB, the area will be in non-compliance. 

“If we get one day at one site in particular, like our Northwest Austin site which has a 79 parts-per-billion eight-hour average … one more at that level will throw us into non-compliance," says Bryan Lambeth, senior meteorologist at Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Deana Altenhoff, Executive Director of the CLEAN AIR Force of Central Texas, agrees. "Ozone season ends October 31st," Altenhoff says. "This is our most critical time of the year because historically this is when we see our highest levels of ozone." 

National Weather Service

With Travis County receiving several inches of rain in the last 24 hours, a burn ban for the county is no longer in effect. 

Travis County Fire Marshal Hershel Lee lifted the burn ban for the region today. It was initially scheduled to last until Oct. 3. The lift will be in effect until  at least Sept. 18, when the county commissioners court will consider the ban once more.

Officials still remind citizens to abide by state regulations when burning any materials outdoors. You can find more information on the fire marshall’s website

National Weather Service

Much anticipated relief from triple-digit temperatures is coming Saturday – but at a cost.

As KUT News reported yesterday, a dry cold front blowing in tomorrow is creating an elevated wildfire risk.

While Saturday’s high temperature is expected to be a comparatively cool 92 degrees, wind is coming from the north at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.  Travis County Fire Marshall Hershel Lee says those conditions remind him of last year’s Memorial Day weekend, when wildfires broke out all over Central Texas.

National Weather Service

The National Weather Service is warning about dangerous fire weather this weekend – what it calls "near critical fire weather conditions" beginning Saturday.

Friday is expected to bring record highs to the region. Then a mostly dry cold front will bring strong winds on Saturday morning and the winds will get stronger as the day passes – 15 to 25 mph and gusty, the NWS says.

Some thunderstorms forecast for Saturday could produce dry lightning, which could cause wildfires to break out.

Burn bans are currently effect in Travis, Hays, Williamson, Burnet and Blanco counties. 

Mark Dewey for KUT News

Central Texas remains ready to help out with potential evacuees, as Hurricane Isaac – which was just downgraded to a tropical storm – moves slowly through southern Louisiana.

It’s not yet clear if the Red Cross will need to provide storm shelter in Austin. "We have shelters identified and teams of volunteers prepared to manage those shelters, though we haven’t seen those evacuees yet,” American Red Cross Central Texas Region Spokesperson Sara Kennedy says.

Kennedy adds that in Dallas, Red Cross shelters are now open.  But she says they haven’t seen very many evacuees so far.

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell says in a statement that the City of Austin will provide help too, should it be needed.  

U.S. Army

Approximately 80 members of U.S. Army North have been dispatched from San Antonio to four states in the path of Hurricane Isaac.

Army North supports FEMA and local first responders during disasters, providing services ranging from flood rescue to fire control.

Sixty soldiers were deployed to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands when then-Tropical Storm Isaac moved through. They have now been redeployed to the Gulf Coast states.

The Latest at 10:20 p.m. ET. More Than 650,000 Power Outages In La.

That tidbit emerged in a letter from gov. Bobby Jindal to President Obama in which he requested expedited major disaster declaration for the state as a result of damage caused by Isaac.

Here's more from the letter:

The Latest At 11:06 P.M. ET Little Change In Strength

The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Isaac will continue moving near or over the southeastern coast of Louisiana on Tuesday night, and move inland during the next day or so.

"Little change in strength is forecast tonight," it said at 10 p.m. CDT. "Slow weakening is expected after that."

As we reported earlier, widespread flooding was expected. Isaac was moving toward Baton Rouge, La.

Environmental Protection Agency

You could call it a win for Texas officials in their ongoing battle against the Environmental Protection Agency.

A federal appeals court decided this morning the EPA went beyond its authority with a cross-state air pollution rule. The rule would have clamped down on power plant pollution that affects air quality in neighboring states. It was set to go in effect in January but several states, including Texas, sued to stop it.

Attorney General Greg Abbott is leading the charge for Texas against the EPA. He issued this statement about today's ruling:

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows portions of Central Texas have moved from moderate to severe drought.

Recent hot and dry weather has prompted several Central Texas counties to issue burn bans.

Travis, Williamson, Hays and Burnet Counties are all prohibiting outdoor burning.

University of Texas Energy Institute

The University of Texas at Austin has put together a panel of three experts to review a professor’s disputed study on hydraulic fracking.

UT professor Charles Groat’s study stated there’s little or no evidence that fracking’s connected with groundwater contamination. But the results of the study came into question after a watchdog group noted Groat has received money from a company that does fracking.

StateImpact Texas shares the make up of the panel:

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