environment

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A 40-year old man is now in stable condition after he was stung by bees about 300 times this morning in Pflugerville.

The Texas AgriLife Extension Office says they’re seeing higher populations of most types of insects this year – including aphids, cicadas and bees.

“Since we’ve been having more rain this year, there have been more plants available as a food source and the honey bees have an opportunity to collect nectar so there do tend to me more numbers – I’ve been getting more calls on bees than I have in the past few years," Extension Program Specialist Wizzie Brown says.

University of Texas Energy Institute

A University of Texas study disputing connections between the oil and gas industry practice of fracking and groundwater contamination is receiving new scrutiny, with the revelation the study’s leader failed to disclose significant financial ties to a drilling company that engages in the practice.

As KUT News reported in February, the report from the UT Energy Institute, “Separating Fact From Fiction in Shale Gas Development,” stated that fracking, when executed properly, doesn’t contaminate groundwater. However, contamination may occur as the result of above ground spills or mishandling of wastewater.

StateImpact Texas, a joint reporting partnership of KUT News and NPR, has followed the story. On Monday, highlighting a report from watchdog group  Public Accountablitiy Initiative, it reported study leader Charles “Chip” Groat had extensive industry ties:

flickr.com/hayesandjenn

A blue green algae bloom in Lake Austin may lead to “musty” or “earthy” smelling and tasting water for some Austinites says Austin Water, the utility responsible for city water treatment and distribution.

Jason Hill, a spokesman for Austin Water, said there is no way to know what parts of the city might receive the water, but that the strange smell does not effect its safety.

Austin Water discovered high levels of the algae in routine samples of the city's raw water. Hill said the company is adding powdered carbon to its treatment process to try and counteract the algae’s scent and flavor.

pecanstreet.org

The Pecan Street Project – a demonstration “smart grid” energy system in the emerging Mueller development – was featured on the PBS NewsHour.

Charles Upshaw, a mechanical engineering graduate student working on the project, told StateImpact Texas the initiative is ”a collaboration between the University of Texas, the City of Austin, Austin Energy and a bunch of companies. In order to really test, and have a real world kind of experiment with high density residential solar, they have offered additional incentives to the [Mueller homeowners] on top of the Austin energy rebate and the federal rebate, so the people in Mueller have an opportunity to get solar really cheaply.”

amorton via flickr

Starting Monday, Austin residents will be able to water two days a week under Stage I restrictions. Stage II water restrictions had been in effect since last September.

The city says wetter than expected conditions this past winter and spring have increased the storage volumes of Lakes Travis and Buchanan. And those levels will be better maintained this year because water is being cut off to rice farmers downstream under the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Emergency Drought Plan.

Despite the improvement in water storage levels, Central Texas remains under drought conditions. But Austin Water spokesperson Jason Hill says it’s important for customers to be able to take care of landscaping as we head into the hottest part of the summer.

National Weather Service

Update (Noon): Via Twitter,  Bastrop Country Emergency Operations reports that FM 969 has been reopened.

Travis County Emergency Services reports that Star Flight helicopter service has been requested to search Eastern Travis and Western Bastrop counties. “Reported houses and vehicles submerged. Unknown if there are any victims,” the group says.

The American Red Cross Central Texas Region says they are dispatching a disaster assessment team “to the neighborhood affected by this morning’s flash flood in Webberville, TX. The team will have supplies, snacks, and water, and will be on scene to assess the needs of affected residents. Additional volunteers are standing by to open a shelter if needed.” 

The flash flood warning for Bastrop and portions of Travis County expired at noon. 

Original Post (11:13 a.m.): Bastrop and East Central Travis County are under a flash flood warning until noon, due to heavy rainfall last night and this morning.

On the same day Japan's first nuclear power plant went back online, a panel of Japanese officials released a scathing report on last year's nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant. Their view? The crisis was preventable.

U.S. Drought Monitor

The U.S. Drought Monitor released a new map today – and the news is mixed.

For the first time since March of last year, no part of Texas is under the worst stage of drought. But parts of Central Texas are actually drier than they’ve been in the last few months.

The map shows parts of Travis, Williamson, and Milam counties have been elevated from moderate to severe drought.

That’s because June, which is usually the state’s wettest month, has been abnormally dry. In fact, the last five weeks have been the second driest late May to mid-June on record.

flickr.com/atmtx

While motorcycles rev into Austin for this weekend’s Republic of Texas Rally, they’re not the only thing pulling into the region: try ozone.

The Clean Air Force of Central Texas forecasts “Level Orange” ozone levels for this Saturday. That level sits nearly midpoint in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index – making ozone levels unhealthy for adults and children exerting themselves outside, plus asthmatics and people with lung disease.

How to lower ozone levels? The Clean Air Force suggests limiting driving, riding the bus and avoiding idling – highly unlikely scenarios for tens of thousands of cyclists cruising Austin this weekend. 

KUT News

Biking this week will save you more than just gas money. Bike-to-Eat Week (BTEW) is a project giving cyclists discounts at certain locally owned restaurants in Austin. All you have to do is show up on a bike to automatically receive a 10 percent discount on any of these restaurants.

“The idea is to bring restaurants which are part of the local community, the Austin community, on the radar of the cycling community,” says Christopher Stanton, executive director and founder of the Ghisallo Foundation, which created Bike-to-Eat Week. “This will as a result bring the idea of engaging with that cycling community at large to the restaurant.”

Photo courtesy Clear Channel Outdoor

The Texas Gulf Coast is preparing for the upcoming hurricane season.

Today emergency and traffic officials tested digital billboards that will provide emergency messages throughout the Houston area.

Drivers saw a message that said, “Emergency Alert: This is only a test.”

Photo courtesy flickr.com/usnationalarchives

Once a hippie holiday, now a fully mainstream observance (especially in Austin), Earth Day 2012 is coming this Sunday.  Get your credit card and your Djembe drum ready, because here in town, there are plenty of ways to celebrate Mother Earth, and give a little something back.

SHOPPING

Over 110 Austin businesses will donate five percent of their profits to environmental causes, such as Friends of Barton Springs Pool and the Hill Country Conservancy.  That makes Sunday a great time to do grocery shopping (Whole Foods and Wheatsville Food Co-Op are participating), go to the cleaners (at Eco Clean Garment and Laundry), or take your pet to the vet (at Austin Vet Care), to name a few participants. 

Austinites can opt-out of receiving mailings like phone books.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/19melissa68

It’s often remarked that in the Internet age, the phone book is obsolete. And now, with a few keystrokes, Austinites can opt out of receiving them.

Austin Resource Recovery has partnered with the nonprofit organization Catalog Choice to offer a registry where citizens can elect to stop receiving phone books and certain types of junk mail – the dead-tree version of a “Do Not Call” list. You can register at https://austin.catalogchoice.org.

Aside from the environmental impact, the city notes the cost savings it may realize from saving on cleanup of unwanted litter. “More than 100 billion pieces of unsolicited mail are received by Americans each year—and municipalities foot the bill for waste collection and disposal,” the city notes in a release announcing the initiative.

There's a boom in natural gas production in the United States, a boom so big the market is having trouble absorbing it all.

The unusually warm weather this winter is one reason for the excess, since it reduced the need for people to burn gas to heat their homes. A bigger reason, however, is the huge increase in gas production made possible by new methods of coaxing gas out of shale rock formations.

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.

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 Todd Wiseman/Jay Root, Texas Tribune

As the White House and Congress battle it out over the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the Canadian company that wants to build it is still using its land-seizure powers to get property easements for the ambitious project.

And it’s ruffling some feathers in a politically conservative patch of Texas.

Several landowners along the proposed pipeline route say TransCanada has bullied them into selling their property by asserting “eminent domain” authority, the same power that governments use to seize land for highways and other public infrastructure projects. A property rights coalition tracking the condemnation proceedings has uncovered at least 89 land condemnation lawsuits involving TransCanada in 17 counties from the Red River to the Gulf Coast — cases that could test the limits of a private company's power to condemn property.

Image courtesy Chesapeake Energy

UT Study Says Fracking Doesn’t Directly Contaminate Groundwater

A new report by the University of Texas at Austin released this week says there’s no direct link between groundwater contamination and hydraulic fracturing – a controversial method of extracting natural gas and oil from shale formations.

The research was done by UT's Energy Institute. The report’s authors say contamination is often the result of above ground spills or mishandling of wasterwater, but not caused directly by fracking. 

Fracking involves blasting water, mixed with sand and chemicals, underground to fracture rock and improve the flow of natural gas and oil. The practice is used at the North Texas Barnett Shale.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is also studying the environmental effects fracking may have on groundwater. Its preliminary results differ from the UT study.

Photo courtesy www.flickr.com/arselectronica, Ramin Bahrani

Plans to phase out single-use plastic bags at Austin retailers are still up in the air.

Austin Resource Recovery, the department tasked with drafting an ordinance banning the bags, has drafted and scrapped two separate ordinances in as many months. But with a lull before the department rolls out their third (and presumably final) draft, now is as good a time as any to pin down their previous proposals.

Photo by cool.as.a.cucumber http://www.flickr.com/photos/smreilly/

Spontaneous combustion is real, at least when it comes to compost heaps.

Large commercial compost heaps of over 12 feet tall can become dangerous if not properly maintained, says Lauren Hammond, spokesperson for Austin's solid waste services department.

She says, the conditions have to be "just right" for a pile to self-ignite.

The record triple digit heat we've been experiencing can raise the temperature of a compost pile above 160 degrees. Mix that with the various gasses that are released from decomposition and the abundance of dry organic material, and you could have a real fire hazard on your hands.

Though most residential compost piles are no where near 12 feet tall, Hammond says, they still need to be maintained and monitored weekly.

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