Top 9 Enviro Stories

A rendering of the WTP4 pump station
A rendering of the WTP4 pump station

1) DROUGHT DEVASTATION A hotter 'n hell summer and the driest period since the Fifties prompted city and regional utilities to enforce mandatory water restrictions – until steady autumn rains washed us out of the danger zone. Meanwhile, the Lower Colorado River Authority set about fashioning a forward-looking regional water plan with a special emphasis on conservation.

2) WTP4 DEBATE The half-billion-dollar Water Treatment Plant No. 4 got the City Council go-ahead despite a recession, a record-breaking drought, an incomplete environmental-impact study, and opposition from environmentalists and Lake Travis businesses. Great news for supporters of the plant; not so great for those who believe conservation could do the trick without the price tag – and without the hit to a waning precious resource.

3) TIME TO ROLL ON COAL? Austin Energy's proposed generation plan sparked debate about how soon is too soon to get out of coal – and how much is too much to invest in a clean energy future. City Council will address that question in 2010.

4) SAVING THE TREES All hell broke loose when city parks officials announced that 28 trees at Barton Springs Pool would get the axe because their aged and diseased state threatened the health and safety of the public. After loud protests, Parks and Recreation Director Sara Hensley did something different: She listened and compromised. In the end, only three trees had to come down.

5) NOW THAT'S SOLID Acknowledging a serious lack of progress on Austin's recycling program, the city booted its old-school Solid Waste Services director upstairs and hired a new green-minded leader to revamp the department.

6) FLUSH IT The Austin Water Utility yanked the reins on rebating apartments and businesses for low-flow toilets, and Austin Energy was forced to rethink its solar rebate program, as the number of rebate applications exceeded the cash available to fund the popular subsidy programs.

7) GRIDDING FOR THE FUTURE It may have started out as a pipe dream, but the ambitious Pecan Street Project picked up a $10.4 million boost from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a smart-grid demonstration in the Mueller neighborhood; former City Council Member Brewster McCracken will lead the PSP effort.

8) A HEAP OF TIRE TROUBLE The state environmental agency and the Austin Police Department launched investigations into city-owned scrap tires languishing in a field southeast of Downtown, in violation of state law. The man-made paradise for mosquitoes and snakes is also a sign of deeper management trouble at the Fleet Services Division.

9) QUARRY NOT SO HUNKY-DORY Travis County commissioners punted a decision on the proposed TXI gravel quarry into the new year; meanwhile, a committee will review the quarry's potential impact on nearby subdivisions in this unincorporated area east of Austin, hoping for mediation where the county has few regulatory tools.

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Top 10s, drought, Water Treatment Plant No. 4, Austin Water Utility, Austin Energy, generation plan, coal, Barton Springs, Solid Waste Services, Sara Hensley, Pecan Street Project, Austin Police Department, Fleet Services Department, TXI

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