Now that Texas voters have given the green light to put serious money towards new water projects in the state, where do we go from here? How will projects get prioritized and funded? Will conservation be a properly-sized piece of the pie? What should we expect from state leaders going forward?
University of Texas at Austin, Liberal Arts Building, CLA 0.128
Free and Open to the Public
Moderator: Todd Votteler, Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority
Panelists: Brad Castleberry, Lloyd Gosselink Rochelle & Townsend, P.C.; Ken Kramer, Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter; Dean Robbins, Texas Water Conservation Association; and Stacey Steinbach, Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts
A map of recent earthquakes (in red) and oil and gas wastewater disposal wells outside of Fort Worth. Active disposal wells are in green; inactive wells are in yellow. Map by Michael Marks/Terrence Henry
Ten Seventeen* earthquakes in just a month, the biggest a magnitude 3.6. That’s what small towns like Azle and Springtown Northwest of Fort Worth have had to deal with recently. (*More quakes have struck Azle since this story was originally published: on November 21, 23, 25, 26 and 29. The Nov. 25 quake measured 3.3.)
The region is also home to several disposal wells, which are used to store massive amounts of wastewater from oil and gas drilling. In other parts of the Barnett Shale drilling area disposal wells have been linked to similar series of quakes. You can see where the quakes have occurred recently around the town of Azle, as well as active and inactive disposal wells in the region, in the map above. The quakes are in Tarrant and Parker counties.
Richard Rivera stands in front of a red sticker that marks his house as "uninhabitable" due to recent flooding.
It’s been three weeks since a flood swept through Richard Rivera’s Austin, Texas home. There’s still a dead car, washed up by the waters, deposited on his front yard. A crack has formed on his concrete driveway. A result, he says, of the deluge. He doesn’t know where his air conditioning unit floated off to. His home bears the red sticker, left by city inspectors, that deems it uninhabitable.
But unlike many of his neighbors, Rivera can take solace in the fact that he was prepared. He paid about $2,000 annually for flood insurance.
“You pay it, and you pay it, and pay it, and hopefully you never need it, but when you need it, you’d like to have it,” he says with a rueful smile, standing in the wreckage.
In a decision he now looks back on with some degree of awe, Rivera had increased his insurance coverage just months before the flood, expanding it to cover an additional $60,000 in damages.
Around the same time, he says, his neighbors dropped their insurance altogether.
“He got laid off and his wife got laid off. “That was one of the deals where the payment was about as high as the mortgage so he let it go,” Rivera says.
“That guy is really having some problems right now” he adds. “They’ve got kids.”
There’s a growing concern that more people will find themselves in the situation of that neighbor if changes to the National Flood Insurance Program move ahead.
A map of reported Anthrax cases in Texas, by county. Map by Michael Marks
Texas is cattle country: there are nearly 13 million cows wandering through Texas, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. That’s over 14 percent of the country’s total cattle population.
And our bovine friends have some company: there are also approximately 1.3 million goats, nearly one million horses, and 3.6 million deer.
So if just one grazing animal died of a lethal and highly transmittable disease, there would be cause for concern that large numbers of animals could be at risk.
Rescue teams on the scene in Southeast Austin assisting people stranded in rising flood waters. Heavy rains caused serious flooding in Onion Creek on Halloween.
Early on the morning of October 31st, as waters rose to historic levels in Onion Creek, two of the flood gauges that officials rely on to monitor water levels weren’t working. The flooding heavily damaged more than 600 homes and killed five. One gauge was completely submerged by water, damaging the equipment, which isn’t waterproof. But the other had malfunctioned before the flooding even began. And more than two weeks after the Halloween Floods, city and emergency officials still don’t know why.
The gauges, which are managed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), provide emergency responders with critical information during floods about how fast and how high flood waters are rising. In Austin, there are 130 flood gauges that measure water levels, rainfall and low-water crossings 24 hours a day.
The second gauge, according to National Weather Service Hydrologist Mark Lenz, was having problems on October 30th, before the rains started. Lenz was stationed at the Weather Service station in New Braunfels that night, monitoring flood gauges throughout Central Texas.
The Pecan Street Research Institute is a collection of energy-efficient, innovative homes (many with solar panels and electric cars) in a smart grid research project. In this experiment the group looked at 50 homes in Austin that are part of its research network. On average, the solar systems reduced energy use from the grid by 58 percent. The savings were most notable for homes with west-facing systems, which produced nearly 50 percent more power during the hot summer afternoons than south-facing systems.
The state is currently debating how to provide enough power for a growing number of residents, especially when the grid can at times be stretched like during the summer. Pecan Street’s research may point to one option for dealing with the potential power crunch, at least on a small scale and with the proper incentives. “These findings suggest that rooftop solar systems can produce large summer peak reductions that benefit utilities and customers alike without requiring customers to change their behavior or sacrifice comfort,” Pecan Street CEO Brewster McCracken said in the report.
You might have heard that there was a national “Stand Down” yesterday – a day designated to create safety awareness at oil and gas sites in Texas and the rest of the country.
The Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration has been holding these throughout the year, calling on companies to have workers stop for part of the day and focus on safety and training to help reduce accidents in the oil and gas industry. Those accidents have been on the rise, with the number of fatalities more than doubling in the last four years and reaching their highest level in a decade.
“Too many workers are dying in the oil and gas drilling industry,” Dr. David Michaels said at the event in Houston. “Employers need to ensure that jobs are planned out, everyone has adequate training in all aspects of safety and workers need to be part of the planning.”
But chances are the “Stand Down” didn’t catch your eye. Instead you probably read the many headlines about a gas pipeline explosion in Ellis County.
Thursday morning, a construction crew at a Chevon natural gas pipeline just outside the small town of Milford was “performing excavation activities,” according to the company, when a 10-inch liquified gas pipeline was ruptured. The black smoke reached all the way to Dallas, some 50 miles away. Continue Reading →
A gas pipeline has exploded in Ellis County – and evacuations of hundreds of people are underway.
Update, 2:54 p.m.: KERA’s BJ Austin reports: Emergency crews called for the evacuation of Milford because of the thick, black, low-hanging smoke blowing that way.
Steve Fano with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth says an inversion – warm air on top of colder air – was acting like a lid.
“Basically, that was keeping the smoke relatively close the ground,” he said. “The good news is as we’ve progressed through the day that layer of warm air has kind of mixed down. So basically what’s happens is the smoke was allowed to go further into the air and disperse more.” Continue Reading →
Dried up mud from the lake bottom at Lake Arrowhead State Park near Wichita Falls, Texas, September 2013.
Even if Rains Return, Climate Change Still Puts Texas Water Supplies at Risk
After years of drought, the city of Wichita Falls in North Texas is going to Stage 4 water restrictions this week, which bans all outdoor watering: No car washes. No more city water for golf courses. And no watering your lawn, of course. It’s the first time the city has moved to this stage, declaring a “drought disaster.”
While a lack of rainfall is certainly to blame for the sorry state of reservoirs in the region, it isn’t the only culprit. Evaporation has also played a big part in making the drought so destructive.
Map by Texas Water Development Board
Reservoir levels across the Western half of Texas remain dangerously low.
A typical year in Wichita Falls will see around 28 days with temperatures of a hundred degrees or higher. In 2011, they had 100 days over 100 degrees.
“Think about that for a minute,” Rusell Schreiber, Public Works Director, said while announcing the new restrictions this week. “That’s over three months of temperatures over a hundred degrees. One-fourth of the entire year.”
All that heat leads to more evaporation in the large, shallow reservoirs of North and West Texas. And it’s not limited to that region. Last year, the Highland Lakes, reservoirs for the city of Austin, lost more water to evaporation than the entire city used from them over the whole year. Continue Reading →
Volunteers at staging center organizing for cleanup.
After the floods on Halloween morning destroyed their home in Bluff Springs, a community just across the Austin city line in unincorporated Travis County, Debbie Lozano and her boyfriend slept in a tent in their yard.
“We got this creek right here, Boggy Creek, and then it runs in the back of the property into Onion Creek. So we got it double wammied!” she says, remembering a frantic escape in the night, the water rising to her chest.
They had no transportation, and didn’t want to leave their dogs behind. So when the flood receded they lit a campfire to stay warm, and began hauling their waterlogged possessions, what they could salvage, into the yard to dry.
Saturday, nine days after the flooding, volunteers arrived to rip out sheet rock and insulation from the house, clear debris and saw apart trees the waters had pushed against the property. Lozano said it was the first time anyone had come to help clean. She called the assistance a “miracle.”