In the floodplain, several inches of fine silty mud sit atop thick, heavy clay. The clay is the finest dust eroded by the river, carried until this point then deposited as the river spreads out across the prairie. The silt is a thick rich mixture of sediment from upstream. The land in the floodplain naturally holds water very well.
In 2012, some farming districts on the Lower Colorado River were cut off from water for irrigation for the first time. Reservoirs were too low to flood tens of thousands of rice fields. Some asked, “Why would anyone be farming rice in Texas in the first place?”
The answer is long, and it begins with the fact that parts of Texas haven’t always been dry. For farmers like Ronald Gertson, who remembers driving a tractor through rice fields as a child, recent years have been hard to bear.
“It’s just unbelievable that it’s been so bad that we have had three unprecedented years in a row, and I recognize some experts say we could have a couple of decades like this. I hope and pray that’s not the case,” says Gertson, a rice farmer, chair of numerous water-related committees and, in recent years, unofficial spokesman for the Texas Rice Belt. “If that is the case then yeah, this whole prairie is going to change.”
Wind and solar energy now routinely surpasses hydroelectric generation as an energy source in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News.
Hydroelectricity generated by Austin's Tom Miller Dam is a renewable resource. Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News.
Hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy in the U.S. (but, not surprisingly, not in Texas). The state’s online Window on State Government calls it “a tiny portion of the state’s electricity supply with little economic impact and limited prospects for expansion.”
However, Texas is actually a leader in clean energy development. Programs like state renewable portfolio standards and federal tax credits for renewable energies have encouraged the growth of wind and solar power generation, according to the EIA. The effect has been particularly pronounced in Texas, the nation’s biggest wind energy producer. Continue Reading →
In Central Texas, where water reservoirs sit at under 40 percent capacity, all eyes are on watch for El Niño, a global weather phenomenon that generally brings generous rain to the area. The National Weather Service predicts an 80 percent chance of a weak to moderate El Niño this fall, dampening hopes for a season of strong rains to alleviate drought across much of the southwest US.
According to the study, statewide median groundwater levels fell by about 70 feet, or 22 meters, between 1930 and 2000, although the changes vary greatly between areas of the state. The rate of decline in groundwater levels has slowed in recent years, attributed to new policy and technology in water conservation.
Dr. Sriroop Chaudhuri and Dr. Srinivasulu Ale with Texas A&M AgriLife Research
“Our intention is just to give an overview of what’s happening in terms of these long-term groundwater levels. It varies across the state. There are some areas where the water level declines are much deeper and in some areas there has not been a huge difference,” says Srinivasulu Ale, an author of the study and assistant professor at Texas A&M AgriLife Research. Continue Reading →
Fire and water may seem at odds with each other, but Austin’s city-owned water utility is using prescribed burning in an effort to help more rainfall make its way underground to the Edwards Aquifer.
Courtesy of Austin Water's Wildland Conservation Division
A fire official with the Wildland Conservation Division starts a blaze with a drip torch at a 2009 prescribed burn on Water Quality Protection Lands in Hays County.
Austin Water’s Wildland Conservation Division is conducting the burns on over 380 acres of Hay County that feed into the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer. The goal of each blaze is to remove brush, cedar, large plants and invasive species that can crowd the land and displace the native grasses. The division oversees prescribed fires on between 2,500 and 5,000 acres of preserved land each year.
“If there’s a woodland environment and it rains, about 30 to 40 percent of that water will be captured in the canopy of those trees,” says Amanda Ross, spokeswoman for the Wildland Conservation Division. “But grasses will allow the water to come down to the ground and run off slowly into nearby creeks or percolate into the soil through the deep root systems of the grasses.”
The fires mimic naturally-occurring wildfires in order to maintain a grassland habitat, Ross says. Continue Reading →
The world is warming, and there’s heated debate over what to do about it, or if it’s even warming at all. (Hint: It is.) Amidst this debate, some opponents of government regulations and environmental policy have taken up protest by retrofitting their diesel trucks to spew billowing clouds of black, noxious smoke. When the soot gets blasted, it’s called “rolling coal.” Some save the move for those special moments when they’re in front of a Prius, then post the video online.
“[Diesel engines] will smoke during acceleration, gear changes, some travel conditions, vehicle loading, and those exceptions are covered under the law,” Vinger said.
There are several ways to make your truck “roll coal,” ranging from removing factory-installed emissions regulators to reprograming the small computer that coordinates fuel injection.
But according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act, it is illegal “to manufacture, sell, or install a part for a motor vehicle that bypasses, defeats, or renders inoperative any emission control device.” Continue Reading →
Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel and the most widely used for power generation.
El Paso’s public utility announced plans to run the city coal-free in two years. It’s a bold proposal since no major U.S. city can run without coal power yet, but it seems possible, and it puts El Paso ahead among Texas cities that have sought to end their dependence on coal.
The announcement mirrors an initiative in Austin. But El Paso, with less investment in coal plants, less dependence on coal power and substantial recent development of other energy sources may find it easier to get out of the coal game completely.
“Our overall portfolio for generation has a very small percentage of coal,” said Eddie Gutierrez, spokesman for El Paso Electric Company. “In our region we have the right kind of sun for the optimal type of solar energy, so moving forward solar energy and cost effective forms of technology is what were going to go with.”
Taken by astronauts on International Space Station mission STS065 on July 11, 1994 / JSC Astromaterials Research & Exploration Science Directorate, NASA, The International Space Station
This image, taken by astronauts in the International Space Station from 160 above Earth, shows a Saharan dust cloud floating across the Caribbean. The camera is pointed southwest and the land in the upper right is Haiti.
Some Texans have been able to enjoy exceptional sunsets this week as billions of tiny grains of dust from afar traverses our skies. A dusty drifter from 6,500 miles away — a giant mass of super-fine sediment and dry air from the Sahara Desert — is visiting Central Texas this week.
“What makes these things so incredible is how big they are. They’re the size of the lower 48 states, so you’re basically stirring up this continent-sized land mass and blasting it out into the Atlantic,” says Dunion, who was the principle investigator in the Saharan Air Layer Group.
Courtesy of NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory via Flickr Creative Commons
Zebra mussels have been stealthily hitching rides between Texas rivers and lakes for several years, but new rules to combat their spread take effect today. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) is requiring that boats be drained and checked for mussels and prohibiting transfer of personally-caught live bait between water bodies.
Zebra mussels, invasive species that clog and damage underwater equipment, were introduced to Texas in 2009. They’ve been established in seven lakes statewide and found in several other water bodies since. Continue Reading →
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