The Austin Chronicle

Top 10 Environmental Stories

By Amy Smith, January 3, 2014, News

1) No Austin-Bashing Here Rather than wait for the Legislature to follow through on threats to reverse parts of Austin's development laws, the City Council opted to preemptively repeal parts of the city's development code to allow some expired "zombie" construction projects to start anew under older, less stringent environmental regs.

2) Block That Sewage After voting on a settlement deal that paved the way for a residential development and a sewage treatment plant in the critical recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, the city, aided by the Nature Conservancy, then brokered a deal to pay $18 million for the 600-acre site, with voter-approved bond money for water-quality-protection land acquisitions.

3) Curb Your Dog's Enthusiasm What started as a plan to add new turf and erosion control features at Auditorium Shores turned into a loss for dog owners who had for decades enjoyed the park's 18 acres of off-leash freedom. Under the new plan, the off-leash area will be reduced to 4.7 acres.

4) Wells of the Rich and Famous With more focus on the drought and the future of water, some wealthy West Austin homeowners have taken matters into their own hands by drilling their own water wells to keep their lawns lush and green, thus avoiding outdoor watering restrictions and high water bills. Some 200 homeowners – including Attorney General Greg Abbott and several other prominent figures – have had private water wells installed since 2009.

5) Burning Rubber on SH 45 The long, controversial road to State Highway 45 shifted out of idle this year with road champion Gerald Daugherty's arrival on the Commissioners Court, clinching the vote necessary to win Travis County's endorsement of the plan. Still, with the Texas Department of Transportation's environmental impact study yet to be concluded, environmentalists and an army of other opponents have stepped up their attempts to block the toll road's march across the aquifer.

6) You Call This a Drought Plan? The Lower Colorado River Authority – not exactly a regional leader on water conservation – narrowly approved a drought-management plan that's likely to cut off water to downstream rice farmers next year. The plan calls for ending irrigation water to rice farms if the combined water levels in the Highland Lakes fail to rise to at least 1.1 million acre-feet – a trigger that enviros say is too high. The plan needs the approval of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality before it would take effect next year.

7) Perry Crony to Lead LCRA A former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry was named to succeed LCRA General Manager Becky Motal, who retired Dec. 31. Phil Wilson shifted over to the River Authority from his executive director spot at TxDOT. Before TxDOT, he was a lobbyist and senior VP of Luminant Energy.

8) Partly Cloudy on Solar? Solar advocates had hoped to make headway on reversing Austin Energy's move to reduce its compensation rate to residential customers who generate electricity via their solar units, but the Electric Utility Commission failed to endorse a recent resolution urging City Council to reverse AE's decision.

9) The Water Vote Local environmentalists split on the statewide Prop. 6 initiative to create a $2 billion fund to finance water projects, which opponents charged would benefit construction contractors and engineers without solving the state's water woes. In the end, nearly 76% of Travis County voters said yes, along with the rest of the state.

10) Solution Springs Forth Years of debate over city improvement plans for the no-frills south side of Barton Springs Pool finally ended in a compromise agreement between warring factions of regular, longtime Springs swimmers.

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