Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Holly Heinrich

Reporting Intern

Holly Heinrich is a reporting intern with StateImpact Texas.

  • Email: Hollygrayheinrich@gmail.com

Texas Community Without Water Still Waiting For a Solution

Longtime resident L.J. Honeycutt says TK.

Photo by Jeff Heimsath/StateImpact Texas

Longtime resident L.J. Honeycutt says he knows water rates will go up soon for his community.

SPICEWOOD, Texas — Many people who retired in Spicewood Beach came here for the water — the boating, fishing, and the summer days they imagined their grandkids would spend swimming in Lake Travis. In this small community less than an hour outside of Austin, the Fourth of July used to mean eating barbecue at picnic tables on the shore and launching motorboats and Jet Skis from the boat ramp. But as the holiday approaches this year, the town’s mood seems more worried than celebratory, and the boat ramp ends in the sand, not water.

In only three years, the lake has steadily dried to the point where it resembles a creek at its northern end. On some parts of the shore, fishing docks are beginning to slide toward the lakebed. Boat docks in nearby Chimney Cove sit high and dry, far from the shallow water at the bottom of the lake. Residents can drive their golf carts from the browned lakeside golf course down onto dusty trails that were once deep below the water.

Early last year, Spicewood Beach became the first Texas town to run out of water during the current drought. Since then, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), which owned and managed the community’s water system, has been trucking approximately 32,500 gallons of water per day to the small community, and an extra 6,500-gallon truckload on weekends. Spicewood Beach has been under Stage Four watering restrictions for over a year, meaning that residents are not allowed to conduct any outdoor watering. Continue Reading

Governor Signs Water Bills, Vetoes Reform for Oil and Gas Regulators

Several water bills were signed into law, but reforms for state oil and gas regulators were vetoed.

Photo by Mike Brown/The Commercial Appea

Several water bills were signed into law, but reforms for state oil and gas regulators were vetoed.

On Friday, Governor Rick Perry signed several water conservation bills intended to address the state’s drought and water supply problem, and also vetoed a major Ethics Commission sunset bill. The sunset bill, Senate Bill 219, would have required members of the Railroad Commission, the state authority charged with regulating the oil and gas industry, to resign before running for other political offices.

Last week, when the package of water conservation bills became law, 95 percent of the state was experiencing drought conditions. The water legislation signed on Friday will require water utilities to conduct annual water loss audits and notify customers of the results, and will also require the utilities to use part of their state assistance to repair leaks.

Leaking water mains can be a significant drain on Texas water resources, according to Luke Metzger, the director of Environment Texas. On average, Metzger said, over two percent of the water in municipal utility systems leaks out of broken mains, but the losses can be higher. In the summer of 2011, the city of Houston lost as much as 25 percent of its water to leaks. In a 2011 report, Environment Texas estimated that over 20 billion gallons of water could be saved annually by fixing municipal water leaks. Continue Reading

Why It’s Cheaper to Charge an Electric Car than Fill Up With Gas

Photo by Friso Gentsch/DPA/LANDOV

Electric cars can be three times cheaper to fill up than traditional gas-powered vehicles.

The next time you’re pumping gas on a hot, sticky summer day, watching the numbers tick upward as you fill the tank with fuel that can sometimes run $4 per gallon, you may be surprised to learn that the person cruising past in an electric car is not only avoiding stopping at the pump entirely—they’re also paying about one third of what you are to “fill up” their tank.

Charging an electric car costs the equivalent of paying about $1.14 per gallon at the pump, according to a new tool from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) called eGallon. In other words, the average electric car can travel the same distance on $1.14 of electricity as a similar, gasoline-powered car can travel on $3.65 of gas, which is the average national cost for a gallon of gasoline. In Texas, the costs of fueling both types of vehicles are slightly lower. Texans pay an average of $3.37 per gallon to fill up at the gas station, and $1.09 per gallon to charge an electric car.

Driving an electric vehicle, then, costs about three times less than driving a gasoline-powered one. And it may become a little easier to drive an electric car in Texas this year.  Continue Reading

High Wildfire Risk, Longer Fire Season Possible This Year


Scientists warn that wildfire risks could be increasing in the Southwest due to climate change.

Major wildfires could occur across the Southwest this year, including in Texas, according to several scientists on a Climate Nexus panel Tuesday. Now that Texas in its third year of drought, the state is likely to experience a longer fire season as a result of dry conditions and rising summer temperatures. High fire risk conditions raise the concern that Texas could again experience severe wildfires. Fires on Labor Day weekend in  2011 destroyed more than 1,600 Texas homesAnd this week, wildfires raged in California and New Mexico, charring the landscape and forcing 2,000 residents to evacuate an area north of Los Angeles.

According to Dr. Valerie Trouet, an Assistant Professor of Dendrochronology (the study of tree rings) at the University of Arizona, wildfires in the American Southwest during the previous century were much less frequent and severe than fires have typically been throughout the region’s history. However, that reality may not hold for this century.

“The 20th century has been extraordinary relative to previous centuries in terms of fire suppression,” Trouet said. “Our experience in the 20th century is not the natural state of fire frequency throughout the Southwest, and the West in general.” Continue Reading

Report: As Natural Gas Displaces Coal, Carbon Emissions Fall

Increased use of natural gas to generate power in the U.S. is contributing to a decline in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) out today.

While coal still makes up a substantial percentage of the nation’s electricity, particularly when power demands rise in the summer, the group predicts that natural gas will have an increasingly dominant role in the energy sector, resulting in lower emissions.

Coal still generates, on average, more of America’s electricity than natural gas. According to the report, natural gas accounted for 25 percent of power generation from November 2012 to March 2013. In comparison, coal generated an average 40 percent of the nation’s monthly electricity supply during the same period. (For a brief moment last spring, natural gas actually tied coal in power generation, but coal came back ahead afterwards.) And in the overall energy picture, including things like power generation, vehicle fuels, heating buildings and industrial use, natural gas made up 27 percent of total energy use in 2012.

While coal still dominates energy production, the report predicts natural gas will supply not only more of the nation’s future power, but also more of the nation’s general energy demands. Natural gas could eventually “overtake petroleum as the most popular primary energy source in the U.S.,” the report says. Continue Reading

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »