Mose Buchele is the Austin-based broadcast reporter for StateImpact. He has been on staff at KUT 90.5 in Austin since 2009, covering local and state issues. Mose has also worked as a blogger on politics and an education reporter at his hometown paper in Western Massachusetts. He holds masters degrees in Latin American Studies and Journalism from UT Austin.
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a major case pitting the water needs of North Texas against its northern neighbor. At issue was Texas’ ability to access water from the Red River in Oklahoma.
The Tarrant Regional Water District serves 11 counties in fast-growing North Texas, including the city of Fort Worth. It argued that the state is due that water under an interstate water sharing agreement. Because it was not flowing downstream, Texas had the right to go upstream, into Oklahoma, to get it.
Oklahoma passed laws banning that from happening. So, six years ago, the water district sued. It said the ban violated a water compact agreed to by the states.
This week the Supreme Court sided with Oklahoma, saying that state’s laws trump the interstate compact. Sarah Tran is a law professor at Southern Methodist University who calls the ruling a win for advocates of state sovereignty. She says Texas will have to go “back to the drawing board” to get access to the water.
So what does this mean for the future of water in North Texas?
A fledgling mockingbird seeks refuge in a tomato plant in Austin, Texas.
It’s a story familiar to pet owners.
About a week ago, I was watering our small raised garden when I noticed two baby mockingbirds hanging out in the tomato plants. There was a grown bird nearby, watching its offspring and chattering angrily at me. I didn’t think much of it until later, when I heard my wife scolding our dogs in the front yard. Eddie and Bobo, our fawn pugs, had found one of the baby birds and decided it was play time.
State Rep. Sylvester Turner helped create the System Benefit Fund. He will now see the fund drawn down.
At the start of the year, over $800 million sat unused in a state fund designed to help low income Texans, and state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, thought there was nothing he could do about it.
“If you had asked me in January, did I envision these dollars going to the intended population? I would have said ‘No,’” Turner, a Houston attorney, says now. “I simply did not think that that legislature, with the leadership that was in place, would take those dollars and put them towards poor people.”
Now, months later, the money is likely going where he did not think it would, into discounts to help poor Texans pay their electric bills. But the budget deal that freed the money up ensured that all assistance will disappear within a few years. That’s left some low income Texans, and their advocates, unsure whether to claim victory or defeat.
The Mexican border. More and more pipelines are being built to bring natural gas from Texas into Mexico.
When the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it would issue a permit to export liquified natural gas to new markets from a facility in Texas recently, the news was greeted as a game changer. Opening international markets could drive the price of natural gas up domestically, spur a new rush to drill for gas, and stimulate some parts of the economy while disrupting others.
Despite all that excitement, a second, quieter, natural gas export boom is already taking place right under our noses. Mexico is importing a record amount of natural gas to create electricity and feed its growing industrial base. Eighty percent of all the gas Mexico imports comes from the United States, and 60 percent comes directly from pipelines in Texas.
“That’s something that most people probably haven’t been aware of,” David Blackmon, an industry consultant and natural gas advocate told StateImpact Texas. “We’ve always exported natural gas into Mexico, so this whole debate over whether we can export it in liquid form rather than pipelines has always kind of befuddled me.”
Photo courtesy of Photomonkey via Flickr's creative commons http://bit.ly/10MHsQP
The House and Senate both advanced measures to fund the State Water Plan, but many hurdles remain.
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.
Lawmakers in the House voting for a rule suspension to postpone a vote on SJR1 until Wednesday.
Update: SJR1 was finally approved in the Texas House on Wednesday night. Read more here.
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.
April Bridges searches through the remains of a house she at when it was destroyed by a tornado on April 3, 2012 in Arlington, 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 →
The Texas House tackled many Senate measures Monday night, SJR1 was not among them.
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.
While it's called the Railroad Commission of Texas, it actually deals with regulating oil and gas in the state. And a name change isn't likely to happen this session.
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.
Only a very small percentage of bills filed in each Legislative session are adopted into law.
KUT’s Veronica Zaragovia co-reported this article.
A revised version of a plan to pay for Texas water projects is heading for the House floor today.
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 the last 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.
Friday, the House Appropriations Committee stripped the original SJR of language it contained about billions of dollars of funding from the Rainy Day fund that would go into the accounts. It also removed language about funding for transportation.
The House plans to vote on the funding issue separately as part of the appropriations process.