The Austin Chronicle

Eco-Currents: Talking Trash and Raising the Roof

Anti-litter campaign aims to clean up Austin creeks

By Nora Ankrum and Richard Whittaker, October 15, 2010, News

Some of the most influential stewards of Texas' environment will convene in Austin on Sunday for a reunion and a celebration of a new book, The Texas Legacy Project: Stories of Courage & Conservation. The book includes excerpts of interviews with scientists, ranchers, farmers, politicians, attorneys, and others – many of them from Austin – who have in some way championed environmental integrity and public health in Texas. Catch their presentation at the Texas Book Festiv­al Sunday morning, 11am, in the Lone Star Tent on the state Capitol grounds, and watch extended video footage of their interviews online in the Texas Legacy Project archive. The 62 interviews found in the book in fact represent only a fraction of those collected from 1997 to 2008 when the Conservation History Association of Texas sat down with the 225 notable Texans – including Chronicle News Editor Michael King, circa 1999, when he was co-editor of The Texas Observer – whose stories populate the oral history archive. See for more.

One thing missing from the TLP archive is the "talking trash can" soon to be taking up residence at Auditorium Shores (near the gazebo) to help the city with its new anti- littering campaign. With nearly a third of Aus­tin's creeks scoring "fair" or "poor" on the litter index, the city hopes to remind people that the trash we throw on the ground (or on top of overflowing trash cans) washes downhill when it rains, ultimately decaying in local waterways, gobbling up oxygen vital to aquatic life, and costing a lot of time and money to clean up. Just from Lady Bird Lake alone, volunteers annually dredge up some 250 tons of trash – plastic, Styro­foam, and glass containers (which may never fully degrade), along with cigarette butts, batteries, and other toxic trash that pollutes the water. Find out how to help at

Litter is of less concern, of course, if there are no lakes to litter in the first place. If Bay City's proposed White Stallion coal plant goes forward as planned, it would operate about 170 miles southeast of Austin, but its effects could be felt closer to home, say those concerned about the water the plant would drain from Central Texas. The Lower Colorado River Authority is considering granting the plant a permit to extract 22 million gallons of water a day from the Colorado River, "posing a significant threat to Lake Travis and the High­land Lakes," according to environmental coalition ReEnergize Texas. With a decision on the permit expected as early as Oct. 20, lakeside business owners and others – including Rep. Elliott Naishtat – rallied on Sunday, Oct. 10, to encourage LCRA to deny the contract; on their side is a report from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas saying that the state's energy market can't support the number of new base-load plants expected to come online anyway. Get involved at

Some people here in Austin are combating the effects of coal and other carbon dioxide-emitting fuels right in – or on – their own homes using green roofs, which dedicate roof space to native plants that can help keep energy use down and combat the urban heat island effect, among other advantages. GRoWERS, an informal coalition of local experts in landscaping, architecture, and sustainable design, has come together to bring more green roofs to Austin, beginning with the development of prefabricated backyard sheds with green roofs that can also accommodate rainwater collection systems. They'll be auctioning off one of these sheds at a plant sale on Sunday (2-5pm at House + Earth, 1214 W. Sixth), to benefit GRoWERS' transition to nonprofit status. See

Local renewable power advocates Mike Sloan and Robin Rather say that Austin Energy should be greener – especially with envy – because San Antonio's municipally owned CPS Energy has surpassed AE both in total megawatts of solar and wind installations, and in overall reduction of peak demand for 2009. "Austin Energy is no longer the environmental leader in Central Texas, let alone the nation," Rather and Sloan wrote on Oct. 8. "San Antonio is a less affluent community than Austin ... yet has more renewable energy ... lower electric rates, is operating in the black, and transfers a higher percentage of revenue to City Government than does Austin." See the data at Sloan's website,, where he and Rather are collaborating on a series of blog posts arguing that AE compares unfavorably to other Texas utilities on affordability and renewables.

San Antonio may be giving Austin a run for its money, but both cities just got a little bit greener thanks to a new contract with Texas Disposal Systems. As of Oct. 1, for the first time ever, recyclables collected under the new contract in the city's blue, single-stream carts are being processed locally rather than trucked 85 miles south to San Antonio. "Processing our recyclables in Austin is good for our environment and good for business," says Solid Waste Advisory Commissioner Rick Cofer. "This will save carbon emissions and taxpayer dollars."

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