Olivia Gordon

Olivia Gordon is an intern with KUT News.

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This Week in Drought: As Parts of Texas Slightly Improve, Panhandle Continues to Suffer

National Park Service

Lake Meredith is currently at a level too low for municipalities to draw water from it, according to Dr. David Brauer with the Ogallala Aquifer Research Project.

Heavy rains over Memorial Day weekend helped pull more of the state from the depths of an ongoing drought. Parts of Northeast Texas along the Red River joined the Houston area as the three percent of the state no longer under abnormally dry or drought conditions.

And while conditions also improved throughout most of the hill country, the Panhandle remained largely in the most severe stage of drought.

Dr. David Brauer, a USDA researcher who manages the Ogallala Aquifer Research Project, says the continuance of the drought is taking a major toll on the region’s already stressed water resources. Continue Reading

All Signs Point to Strong Hurricane Season

Photo by NOAA

Hurricane Sandy strikes the East Coast on October 28, 2012. Forecasters are predicting an active hurricane season this year.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the six-month Atlantic hurricane season, and forecasters think it might be a doozy.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts this coming season will produce more than 13 named storms. An average season produces 12, but the amount of hurricanes and major hurricanes is predicted to be above average as well.

Dr. Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA says this summer will have at least two of the three main factors that lead meteorologists to predict a strong season. Continue Reading

This Week in Drought: The Biggest Losers

While the overall percentage of the state suffering from drought did not increase from last week, six percent of Texas, mostly in the Panhandle, sunk deeper into it.

U.S. Drought Monitor Archives

The dark red represents the most severe level of drought. It spread to cover more than six percent of the state in the past week, most notably in the panhandle.

The U.S. Drought Monitor maps show  exceptional drought spreading in North and West Texas in the past week, with less severe drought levels decreasing in other parts of the state.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center forecasts the drought will continue for the western half of the state, including the Panhandle.

State climatologist Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon says that much of the state already suffering from drought will likely experience a hotter-than-normal and drier-than-normal summer.

“Even if we just get normal rainfall it would be great,” Gammon tells StateImpact Texas. “But the trouble is any gaps in rain will cause things to dry out again. It’s more a matter of getting repeated regular rain than any single amount.”

Continue Reading

New App Tracks Energy and Environmental Lobbying

A new interactive infographic by The Texas Tribune allows users to track campaign contributions from some of the most powerful groups and names in the energy and environmental sectors.

The energy and environmental lobbying tracker shows the dollar amounts in contributions each elected official has received since January 2011. With a drop-down menu, contributions from individual organizations or donors can be viewed as well. Continue Reading

Bid Farewell to the “Dead Bills”

Matt Stamey Staff photographer, Gainesville Sun /Landov

Only a small fraction of bills filed at the state legislature are ever passed into law.

For the past six months, StateImpact Texas covered dozens of bills as they moved through the Texas legislature. In that time, we’ve seen a lot of measures fall by the wayside.  Remember reading up on a bill here, and wondering where it ended up? Well, we’ve compiled a list of the so-called “dead bills” covered in the past by StateImpact Texas.

Energy

HB 55, by Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, would have ended tax exemptions to natural gas drillers in the state. Burnam filed a similar bill last legislative session that fared the same fate as this one.

Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, filed HB 100, which he said would reduce Co2 emissions by making carbon gasses more valuable to drillers looking to extract more oil and gas from unitized fields. It, along with HB 1496, which Taylor said would change the state’s eminent domain rules, was left pending in committee in March.

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While Drought Improves for Some, Many Texas Reservoirs Fall to New Lows

Courtesy of Texas Water Development Board

Levels on some of the state's reservoirs have reached record lows for this time of year. In general, reservoir levels are lowest in November and December.

Statewide reservoir levels are at their lowest point ever for this time of year, according to National Weather Service Southern Region climate program manager Victor Murphy. Murphy says many reservoir levels have not changed much since November, which is when reservoirs are typically at their lowest.

“Quite honestly we should be higher,” Murphy says. “We should have been seeing improvements and we’ve been flat-lined since about mid January. Absent of any unforeseen major rain events, when summer starts rolling around, we should start to see some drop off in these values.”

In East Texas, reservoir levels have remained steady. Recent rains have also pulled some of the coastal areas completely out of the drought. But much of the rest of the state may not feel relief any time soon. Continue Reading

Statewide Drought Worsens

U.S. Drought Monitor

Some of the Texas panhandle drought conditions worsened in the past week, according to maps from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

More than two percent of Texas worsened to exceptional drought from last week. The U.S. Drought Monitor maps released today show more of the panhandle in the most serious drought category. Last week, just over 10 percent of the state was considered to be in exceptional drought- now it’s pushing 13 percent.

The second most severe level of drought also saw an increase in the percentage of Texas afflicted. This increase, too, was seen predominately in and around the panhandle.

And recent weather may have brought an uninvited guest: bees.

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Water Bills Flood the House

DPA/LANDOV

The State Legislature will hear six bills today that would effect several of the state's water issues.

Update: As of Thursday morning none of the bills mentioned in this article had been brought to the floor with the exception of HB2133 and HB1509.

Wednesday, the legislative calendar is inundated with bills that would effect how the state handles its water issues.

In total, six water bills are up for a second reading in the house, three of them authored by State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio.

HB 2133, would allow the state to use alternative techniques in water treatment, namely desalination. The bill also promotes water reuse.

Another of Larson’s bills promotes underground storage facilities as an alternative to drawing water from lakes, where more water is lost to evaporation. HB 3013, the aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) bill, also changes the role of the groundwater conservation districts for the future of the state’s water.

The House Natural Resources Committee heard HB 3013 twice before passing it out of committee. Several cities across the state support the bill, but it remains controversial among environmental groups.  Continue Reading

This Week in Drought: Conditions May Improve, But Crops in Danger

Map by NOAA

The latest NOAA drought outlook shows possible improvement for a larger part of the state than in the past forecast.

More of Texas could begin to recover from the drought in the coming months, but it may not be soon enough to save many of the state’s crops.

The three-month outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center, released Thursday, shows a larger portion of the state possibly improving than in a previous forecast, with much of East Texas listed as “likely to improve” or having “some improvement,” however the drought is forecast to “persist or intensify” in the Western half of the state.

Though the US Drought Monitor Map released Thursday shows no difference in how much of the state is experiencing drought this week, it does show less of Texas under the two most severe drought stages. Much of this exceptional drought is in deep South Texas, where it is taking a toll on crops. Continue Reading

Senate Passes Fracking Wastewater Pipelines Bill

Photo by Jennifer Whitney/Texas Tribune

Each day, dozens of trucks hook up to the Gulf Coast-run fracking fluid disposal well site near Gonzales, TX. A new bill would make it easier to transfer the wastewater by pipeline instead of by truck, potentially reducing roadway damage.

Update: The Senate unanimously approved SB 514 from the floor this afternoon, according to a representative from Sen. Davis’ office.

Original Story: A bill that would reform how fracking wastewater moves to disposal wells could pass through the state Senate today.

SB 514, introduced by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D- Fort Worth, would expand the use of pipelines to transport oil and gas waste to disposal wells. The bill was designed to ease the strain tanker trucks transporting waste can cause on some roads.

In the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” millions of gallons of water (along with sand and chemicals) are sent deep underground to break up oil and gas deposits trapped in rock. Some of that fluid comes back up, along with high-salinity water also trapped int those formations. Since it is too dirty to drink, drillers often dispose of it by sending it back underground in a disposal well.

The bill received widespread support in its public hearing in the Texas Senate Natural Resources Committee in April. Representatives from oil companies, environmental groups and energy interests expressed support for the bill. Today it’s likely to be heard on the Senate floor.  Continue Reading

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