Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Filipa Rodrigues

  • Email: filipa.rodrigues1183@gmail.com

In Photos: Fertilizer Plant Explosion in West, Texas

After an explosion in the small town of West, Texas Wednesday night, some 14 are dead and 200 injured. The incident has displaced a number of people in the small Central Texas community, and questions have risen about the safety and regulation of the plant.

KUT photographers Filipa Rodrigues and Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon traveled to the town of West with StateImpact Texas to document the story. You can see their images, along with photos from wire services and state officials, in the gallery above.


Video: Lawmakers Say Get Ready to Pay More for Water

As Texas legislators continue to grapple with how to identify and fund water project priorities for the state, Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) makes the argument that Texans don’t value water enough. His comments came at StateImpact Texas’ panel: The Texas Water Crisis: Finding and Funding a Solution.

As a representative of a district that has struggled during the state’s dry years, Darby said, his region’s problem wasn’t as much not having enough reservoirs but that there’s not enough water in them. The large O.H. Ivie reservoir, which serves San Angelo, a city of nearly 100,000 people, is only 14 percent full. And the other reservoirs the city relies on, like Twin Buttes and O.C. Fisher, are sitting empty.

We’re “reservoir-rich, but water-poor,” Darby said. His solution? For one, he says Texans — especially those living in the very dry parts of the state — will need to value water higher, and in turn pay more for it. You can watch his remarks in the video above, produced by Filipa Rodrigues of KUT News.

Lawmakers Discuss How to Prioritize Water Plan

The Texas Water Plan is a road map for the state to meet its current and future water needs over the next fifty years. It’s known in part for having a high price tag ($53 billion, with about half of that coming from state funds). It’s also known for being un-prioritized. It’s a wishlist of projects submitted by regional groups, with over 500 projects involved.

Now that it looks like the plan could see real funding during this legislative session, how will it play out? Which projects will get funding first, and which will be deemed unnecessary? At a StateImpact Texas panel on water issues this week, three legislators (State Sen. Glenn Hegar, Rep. Drew Darby and Rep. Lyle Larson) offered up some ideas. You can watch the segment in the video above, produced by Filipa Rodrigues of KUT News.

How to See the Leonid Meteor Shower This Weekend in Texas

Stars of the racetrack won’t be the only lights in the firmament this weekend. It’s also peak time for viewing the Leonid meteor shower. “The shower should produce perhaps a dozen or so “shooting stars” per hour,” UT’s StarDate at McDonald Observatory writes. “The best view comes in the wee hours of the morning, as your part of Earth turns most directly into the meteor stream.”

Peak viewing times should be between midnight and dawn Saturday night.

“Just remember, a meteor shower peak prediction is not an ironclad guarantee,” EarthSky writes. “If it’s clear, you might see nearly as many meteors in the predawn darkness on Friday, November 16 or Sunday, November 18. The days before and after that might feature meteors as well, as we pass through the Leonid meteor stream in space.”

How to See the Orionid Meteor Shower This Weekend in Texas

Stargazers are in for another treat this weekend. The Orionid meteor shower, an annual occurrence, will make its way across the sky late Saturday night into early Sunday morning.

The best hours to see the meteor shower will be at midnight Saturday until early Sunday morning, with a peak around 2 a.m. StarDate magazine says you can expect to see some 25 meteors per hour. And some of them may look “familiar” — the meteor shower is composed of leftover debris from Halley’s comet.

The sky watchers at StarDate, a publication of the University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory, recommend getting as far away from cities as possible to see the shower. “Look for state or city parks or other safe, dark sites,” they write. “Lie on a blanket or reclining chair to get a full-sky view. If you can see all of the stars in the Little Dipper, you have good dark-adapted vision.” The big, open skies of Texas — if you can get far enough away from city lights — should be perfect for witnessing the event should skies stay clear. No rain is forecast for much of the state for Saturday night into Sunday. And the moon is only at a quarter and will set before midnight, so it shouldn’t interfere with seeing the shower.

More on the astronomy behind the celestial wonder from StarDate: Continue Reading

Eyes of the Storm: Hurricane Isaac in Photos

As Hurricane Isaac begins to work its way north of New Orleans, rains and wind continue to hit Southern Louisiana. And once the storm does leave, it will leave behind widespread flooding and damage. In the slideshow above, you can see some of the impacts of the storm so far.

And while Texas was spared this time around, a new report from the Dallas Morning News says that the state may not be as lucky in the future. Environmental Reporter Randy Lee Loftis writes that a scientific consensus is building in the state: the danger hurricanes pose to Texas is growing. Continue Reading

A Look Inside the ERCOT Grid Control Center

Imagine this: you’ve just gotten home from work. You worked right through lunch, as you often do, and now you just want to throw your pasta on the stove and relax in your air-conditioned home while you catch up with the news and… CLICK. Now your power’s out.

That frustration you just felt is exactly what the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the Texas Grid, is trying to prevent. However, it’s more complicated than just generating enough power for everyone.

StateImpact Texas got to see the ERCOT grid control center in person this week in order to get a better understanding of how blackouts are managed and limited. (You can see a slideshow of photos taken inside ERCOT above.) At the end of the day, it all comes down to a balance between load (demand for electricity) and generation of power. Continue Reading

Venus in Transit: How to Witness a Rare Astronomical Event in Texas

It’s not quite an eclipse, it’s more like the sun is going to have a beauty mark for a rare, fleeting moment. On Tuesday, Venus (the brightest planet in our solar system) will pass in front of the sun, and if you’re hoping to catch it, plan with care. If you miss it, you won’t have another chance of seeing it until the next century. December 11, 2117, to be exact.

“During the transit, Venus will appear in silhouette as a small, dark dot moving in front of the solar disk,” writes EarthSky, which reports on astronomy and science. “Here in Austin, Texas, we’ll see the first half of the transit, while the second half will take place after the sun goes beneath our horizon. In North America, it’ll be to our advantage to find a level western horizon, as the sun will be low in the west at the time of the transit.”

For information on the best possible time to witness the phenomenon in Texas, check out local times from the Transit of Venus website. For much of the state, the transit will be viewable starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday and and ending around 10 p.m. You’ll want a telescope with a solar filter to safely observe the passing. Continue Reading

Water, Water, Everywhere (For Now)

It’s raining (and in some cases, flooding) across Texas. A popular question this morning will be: Is the Drought Over? And the answer to that largely depends on where you are. If you’re in East Texas, the answer is a qualified yes. (Many reservoirs still haven’t recovered.) In West Texas? There’s still a ways to go.

But regardless of whether or not the drought is technically abating, the issues behind it are here to stay. Texas is growing rapidly, and will not have enough water to meet its needs unless changes are made. (For an invigorating discussion of those issues, check out this Twitter chat from earlier in the week.)

For now, it’s nice to take a breath and appreciate the wet winter behind us and the hopefully-wet Spring/Summer ahead. Above is a slideshow of scenes of water in Texas to feast your eyes on in the meantime.

Looking Up at the Supermoon From Texas (and Beyond)

Parts of Texas got a peek at one of the coolest lunar moments of the year last weekend. In the late hours of Saturday night, the earth was graced with a close-up of the moon when a full moon hit at the same time as the moon’s nearest orbit to earth (the technical term is perigee-syzygy, but “supermoon” is admittedly more fun). The moon was about thirty percent brighter and fourteen percent bigger, which made it the biggest full moon of the year.

Much of the East Coast got clouded out and couldn’t see the full lunar glory, and Central Texas was hit by severe thunderstorms right as the peak of the supermoon occured. But other parts of Texas were blessed with intermittently clear skies to witness the event. In the slideshow above, you can see images of the supermoon taken across Texas and other parts of the world. Discovery News also has a slideshow with photos submitted by readers.

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