Prosecutor finds plenty of environmental violations in Texas, few resources to prosecute.
Prosecutor finds plenty of environmental violations in Texas, few resources to prosecute.
After days of postponement, arm twisting and behind the scenes negotiation, measures to advance funding for Texas’ State Water Plan were approved in the State Legislature Wednesday.
Lawmakers have been talking about taking money from state’s rainy day fund to improve water infrastructure since at least 2011, when a historic drought gripped the state. Today, members of the House and Senate found the votes to keep that plan alive.
The House voted 130-16 to call for a constitutional amendment to create two accounts from which to loan money for water projects. The Senate passed a supplementary budget bill that would put around $2 billion dollars in that water bank from the state’s rainy day fund with a vote of 29-3.
Because of complicated deal making between the State House and Senate and between Democrats and Republicans, the vote on the constitutional amendment was postponed past a House deadline yesterday while lawmakers waited to make sure the supplementary budget in the Senate contained what they wanted.
Neither chamber would jump first. Wednesday, they held hands and jumped together.
The Ogallala Aquifer suffered its second-worst drop since at least 2000 in a large swath of the Texas Panhandle, new measurements show.
The closely watched figures, published this week by the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District, cover a 16-county area stretching from south of Lubbock to Amarillo. The Ogallala wells measured by the district experienced an average drop of 1.87 feet from 2012 to 2013. That makes it one of the five or 10 worst drops in the district’s more than 60-year history, said Bill Mullican, a hydrogeologist with the district.
“There are some pretty remarkable declines,” Mullican said. One well in the western part of the water district, he said, dropped 19 feet over the year.
The vast majority of Texas is enduring a drought, but the Panhandle has been especially hard hit, causing farmers to pump more water to make up for the lack of rain. That depletes the amount of water stored in the aquifer over the long term, which means future generations will find less water to pump to grow crops.
Don’t let its size fool you, the Mexican Fruit Fly is a serious threat to Texas’ agriculture.
Authorities spotted larval Mexican Fruit Flies in South Texas and quarantined an 85 square mile area to contain the dangerous pest and its insidious larvae, according to the Texas Register.
The quarantine is one of many used over the years as part of a strategy to stave off an infestation of the fly, a pest with the potential to devastate an integral part of the South Texas economy. But while Texas and federal agencies use a variety of methods to keep the little bug at bay, some measures can adversely affect farmers.
“In terms of what the quarantine means, first of all, it’s the extra cost,” says Ray Prewett, President of Texas Citrus Mutual.
A fruit quarantine isn’t like a human quarantine for a disease, Prewett told StateImpact Texas, it’s not as if nothing can leave the quarantine zone. The fruit can leave, but it has to be fumigated or sprayed. That costs money. Also, fumigating the fruit early in the season can cause cosmetic damage to the peel. Fortunately, this year’s quarantine was instituted late in the season so not much fruit will be affected.
Right now Texas does not have the capacity to supply water to everyone who wants it in times of drought. Lawmakers have talked about taking money from Texas’ rainy day fund to fix that problem for years. On Monday, a vote was scheduled in the State House to help make the plan a reality. It would call for a constitutional amendment to set up two bank accounts to loan out money for water projects. Now, it’s Wednesday and the vote still has not come.
The measure, called Senate Joint Resolution One, is about water. But the intrigue surrounding it is about money. A vote on the resolution was postponed Monday, then again on Tuesday afternoon. There is a Texas House rule saying it had to be voted on by midnight last night, so that seemed like a sure thing. Except lawmakers suspended that rule later in the evening.
Why the delay?
A day after a massive tornado ripped through Central Oklahoma, the National Weather Service predicts severe storms will move across a swath of Central and North Texas Tuesday afternoon and evening.
There is potential for tornadoes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The Weather Service’s Fort Worth office recorded 55 mph winds early Tuesday afternoon, according to the Service’s Twitter account.
In Central Texas there could be isolated chances of tornadoes, said Mark Lenz, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.
“The main threat is large hail, golf-ball size or larger,” Lenz told StateImpact Texas.
Note: The tornado Monday in Moore, Oklahoma has been upgraded to an “EF5″ on the Enhanced Fujita Scale from an “EF4.”
Monday’s devastating tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, and another fatal and destructive storm in Granbury, Texas the week before have called attention to the system of tornado measurement called the “Enhanced Fujita Scale.” The Tornado in Texas measured an EF4 on the scale, the one to strike Moore is now ranked an “EF5.” But just what does that mean?
The Enhanced Fujita scale is the most recent incarnation of a system of tornado measurement invented by Dr. T. Theodore Fujita in 1971. According to NOAA the original scale was designed to 1) categorize each tornado by its intensity and its area and 2) estimate a wind speed associated with the damage caused by the tornado. It became the standard by which tornadoes were measured in the U.S.
The scale ranks storms from level F0 (gale) to level F5 (incredible). But, as you can see, it has a weakness. Namely, it is subjective as a system of measurement and “based solely on the damage caused by a tornado. If the same tornado that hit Granbury, last week had touched down in an unpopulated stretch of the plains with no people and no structures, its rank on the scale would have been significantly lower. Continue Reading
With precious little time left in Texas’ 83rd Legislative session, lawmakers will be working this week to vote still-living bills out of the House and Senate.
StateImpact Texas has compiled a short list of some bills related to water, energy and the environment that have made it through or may still have a shot. (This list is not meant to be comprehensive.)
SJR 1, by Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie and Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland would create a State Water Implementation Fund through a constitutional amendment. The fund would assist in financing water projects outlined in the State Water Plan. Another bill designed to finance water infrastructure, HB 11, died in the House in late April. SJR 1 failed to be brought to the floor on Monday. Tuesday is the last day for it to be voted on in Second reading in the House.
Twice the arrival of SJR1 was announced before the House Monday night, and twice it disappeared like a stock pond in a Texas drought.
Senate Joint Resolution 1 would amend the state constitution to create two accounts to fund water infrastructure projects. That would require voter approval in November. Lawmakers in the House had been talking about this approach to water funding for over a week, but needed to negotiate amendments to the Senate version of the measure and bring it through committee before it could come to the floor.
Last Friday many thought a deal had been struck to bring the measure to a vote on Monday.
The first time the bill was announced Monday, a lawmaker rose to speak but began addressing an amendment for a different, previously postponed, bill. Confusion briefly took hold as some Representatives were unsure what bill had been brought to the floor.
The second time the bill was called it was quickly postponed till 9:00 PM and then not spoken of again on the floor of the House.
As Americans watch the U.S. Bureau of Land Management develop rules to manage fracking on federal land, the Texans among them would be forgiven for wondering “what does have to do with us?” After all, due to the state’s unique history, there are virtually no federal lands in Texas.
Well, the rules may have more to do with Texas than you may think. Particularly in their reliance on the online database FracFocus.org to disclose what chemicals drillers are pumping into the ground.
As we reported last month, FracFocus was criticized in a report from Harvard Law School’s Environmental Law Program. It found that the database doesn’t do a good job of disclosing information and can make it more difficult for companies to comply with state regulations. Twelve states, including Texas, require drillers to use FracFocus to disclose their drilling chemical mixes.
The Harvard report, which was quickly dismissed by many state regulators including the Railroad Commission of Texas, also echoed previous findings that FracFocus allows too many companies to hide their chemical ingredients under the guise of trade secrets. This is especially a concern for people worried about the potential for groundwater pollution associated with fracking.
Part of the aim of the Harvard report was to encourage the Bureau of Land Management to seek out a more comprehensive and user-friendly system for companies to disclose what chemicals they use.