Shawna Reding is a reporting intern at StateImpact Texas. She is currently finishing her multimedia journalism degree at the University of Texas at Austin and is pursuing a business foundations certificate from McCombs School of Business.
The new line was marketed as a BRT system, but the MetroRapid buses still need tinkering to meet those requirements.
Standing on Guadalupe Street in Austin facing the tower at the University of Texas, 26-year-old Emily Mandell waits at the bus stop with a scowl on her face. She’s not looking forward to this ride.
“It’s the same as sitting in traffic, but now you’re sitting in traffic stopping at a lot of places with a lot of other people,” Mandell says.
Along Guadalupe and Lavaca, two major north-south arteries through downtown Austin, long, bendy buses labeled “MetroRapid” have recently joined the chaos that is Austin traffic. The city of Austin’s transportation agency, Capital Metro, rolled out this new line in January* in an effort to get more people out of cars and using public transportation. But the rollout hasn’t gone as expected, calling into question how the agency will handle expanding transportation to meet the fast-growing city’s needs.
Now several months into the project, the line has made hardly a dent in Austin’s traffic problem. Board the fancy new buses at any given time of the day, and rows and rows of sparsely populated seats will likely wait for you. Continue Reading →
Construction on the community’s new well system and treatment facility began only about a month ago.
Most Spicewood Beach residents came here to retire with modest savings. Now they feel stuck in depreciated homes with a strained water supply.
In recent months, the community has received some winter rain. Come summertime though, resident Steve Duich says his front lawn will look “like a parking lot.”
An empty above-ground pool sits in Duich’s front yard. Under Stage 4 emergency water restrictions, LCRA bans outdoor watering and urges for only essential water use.
LCRA trucks water into this neighborhood five to six times a day. This began in early 2012 as a temporary solution.
Kim Clifton, a cashier, says her business has managed to keep busy as the only general store in Spicewood Beach. Other businesses can’t stay afloat in this small, tourist driven economy.
Boat docks that once drifted along the shores of Lake Travis now rest on a dry bed of grass and rocks..
Along Lake Travis’ rocky shoreline, plant life is sparse.
Duich points high above the stream of Lake Travis to show where the water have dropped from in recent years.
Tony Castillo, like many residents here, has resigned himself to a constantly unstable water supply.
Behind the counter of a general store just off Highway 71, Kim Clifton, the cashier, shrugs her shoulders and shakes her head when asked about the lingering drought. “We just need more rain,” she says. She rolls her head back to let out an exasperated laugh, “Bring the rain! Bring it!”
It’s something you hear all the time these days across Texas, but chances are you’ll hear it the most in Spicewood Beach, Texas, a Lake Travis community about 40 miles from Austin. Just a little over two years ago, it made headlines as the first community in Texas to run out of water during the current drought.
In early 2012, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), which owns and manages the community’s water system, announced that groundwater levels were falling, leaving its well useless.
Those levels got so low LCRA began trucking in water five to six times a day as a temporary solution. Each load costs LCRA about 200 dollars.
Now, over two years later, LCRA plans to put the finishing touches on a new well system costing over a million dollars. The system was supposed to be completed last summer, but construction began just last month.
Imagine a blimp, like the one you might have looked up at in awe when you were a kid. Now, imagine that blimp cut into a cylindrical shape, with a wind turbine in the middle.
It’s called the Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT), and it’s what Altaeros Energies imagines will be the future of wind energy. By wrapping a helium-filled shell around a conventional three-blade turbine and letting the device into the air with strong tethers, the company says in a press video that the turbine can reach altitudes up to two thousand feet above the ground.
CEO Ben Glass says in the video this means the turbine can capture winds that “are on average five to eight times as powerful as what you get near the ground.”
In addition to producing higher yields of energy, these turbines have environmental advantages over conventional land turbines. Altaeros’ turbine is mobile, limiting its footprint on the landscape. Also unlike land turbines, the airborne turbine’s design limits its threat to birds.
Mike McKim, owner of Cuvee Coffee, a roaster in the Austin area, attributes the quality of his coffee in large part to shade-grown techniques.
“The better [farmers] take care of their land, the better their coffee is, in general,” McKim says.
But beyond the U.S., consumer demand and a drop in global coffee prices is causing a global shift toward growing the cheap stuff, which is used for instant coffee. According to the report, the “proportion of land used to cultivate shade-grown coffee … has fallen by nearly 20 percent globally since 1996.”
While shade-grown coffee production is growing, non-shade-grown coffee is growing at a much faster rate. And in regions such as Africa and Asia, where coffee production on the whole is increasing, farmers are growing a lot of it.
NWF hopes BP settlement money is used to rehabilitate species like this pelican based on scientific research.
In the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill, the worst in US history, the Gulf Coast is still adding up the costs of the disaster on coastal species and the ecosystem as a whole.
In the National Wildlife Federation’s updated annual report on the status of the Gulf Coast, the foundation lists several criminal and civil cases brought against BP and Transocean. Some have resulted in settlements of up to $2.5 billion and some are still pending.
Lacey McCormick, a representative for NWF, says the organization is concerned that money could be misspent as it slowly trickles in.
“Our concern with the RESTORE Act dollars in particular is that we need to make sure that this money is used to restore the Gulf of Mexico and is not spent on pet projects that will not help — and may even harm — the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico,” McCormick says. Continue Reading →
Crews of workers line the Galveston coast in an attempt to contain the 168,000 gallon oil spill from Saturday.
Many fear that because the recent oil spill occurred in open water, the incident will have a greater impact than the 2010 BP spill.
A worker places oil absorbent snares on the beach on the east end of Galveston Island
Oil-coated trash litters the disaster-stricken coast. The highly pollutant oil — bunker fuel — poses severe risks for coastal wildlife.
As of Tuesday morning, TPWD reports that eight birds have been captured for treatment and 10 birds have been found dead.
Organizations such as the Houston Audubon Society search for and treat birds affected by the spill.
Responders load hundreds of feet of boom onto vessels.
An oil-soaked containment boom lies on the beach. More than 35,000 feet of boom has been deployed in response to the spill.
An aerial view of cleanup operations in the Houston Channel.
Responders are scrambling to contain the slimy mess left by an oil spill in Galveston Bay.
After a barge carrying tar-like heavy fuel collided with a vessel in the Houston Ship Channel on Saturday, cargo exports and imports have been put on hold. That’s raised concerns about the impact on Texas’ oil-dependent economy. The Coast Guard says parts of the channel have been re-opened to limited traffic, but the spill is also expected to have an environmental toll.
Now concerned Texans easily access information about groundwater levels through the TWDB site as well. Groundwater and surface water levels are now both being shared with the public by the TWDB and can be viewed in an interactive map.
Currently, zebra mussels are combated with several strategies, including chlorine and metal-based solutions, filtering systems and hot water. But none have proven capable of wiping them out.
“There is not one silver bullet that is effective in killing the mussels in all situations that won’t harm other species and keep our waters safe,” says Brian Van Zee, from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Now Texas is looking into an up-and-coming pesticide that attacks zebra mussels and zebra mussels alone. Continue Reading →
Turbulence is a menace to more than just airplane passengers. As wind power grows in Texas and beyond, its impact on wind turbines is becoming a challenge for energy generation.
In a recent study released by the University of Texas at San Antonio, mechanical engineering professor Kiran Bhaganagar found that placing turbines too closely together in a wind farm causes a wake effect that reduces productivity. In some cases it turbines can lose up to 90 percent of the power they are capable of producing.
Turbulence, a term that gained its reputation by shaking up airplane rides, is known in the science world as a bumpy effect caused by air with conflicting velocities.
On any given wind farm, Bhaganagar says, turbulent wind gains momentum and has an increasingly negative impact as it moves down the line of turbines.
A car tire lays exposed in the dried lake bottom at Lake Abillene near Abilene, Texas.
Texas is a state so huge that it experiences several different climate conditions, from the subtropical Eastern half (think swamps and hurricanes) to the semiarid West (desert and snow in the winter). As such, the state must wear a variety of hats as it navigates a changing climate.
A new study from Arizona State University says that because every region has a different climate, every region experiences climate change differently. So in combating climate change, each region must come up with a different strategy.
Matei Georgescu, one of the scientists who worked on the study, says that “local decisions can play a role” in decreasing effects of urban expansion to make conditions more livable. And Texas is no exception.
As cities burst at the seams from surges in population, those cities become pollution hubs that Georgescu says will “result in about one to two degrees Celcius warming” that will spread beyond city limits. Continue Reading →
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