By: Simone Ballard, energy-water nexus intern
Growing up in a rural community in Illinois, agriculture was a part of my everyday reality. My neighbors took pride in their livestock and centennial family farms. It wasn’t just a job for them, but a way of life. Sustaining farms and ranches is still a livelihood for millions of people in this country, putting food on our tables and fueling our economy. This traditional lifestyle is celebrated here in Texas too, but now it faces a unique challenge and opportunity presented by a shifting climate.
So, following the recent historic climate agreement in Paris, now is the time for agriculture to take a prominent role alongside other sectors in leading emission reductions worldwide. Why? The security of our food supply is at stake. The opening remarks of Paris’ COP21 Conference outline the reasons we must take action to mitigate the impacts of a changing climate: “…safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change.”
Climate change will impact every facet of human society, so it is critical that diverse groups like agriculture, industry, and municipal contribute new solutions to solving our growing emissions problem. Sometimes those of us who now live in cities – and that’s over half the human population worldwide – forget about agriculture’s critical and tangible role at the beginning of the discussion. However, that narrative is shifting in this pivotal moment of climate discussions, as shown in the above statement.
In Texas, where agriculture makes up a large part of our economy, we should be thinking creatively about how to reduce emissions alongside other major players, like energy industry innovators. If we want to protect our natural resources, keep our communities thriving, and create a healthy environment for many generations to come, we need each sector to play its part and act on climate. Read More
It’s been an interesting time for water in Texas. Beyond the incredibly wet and cool spring we’ve been having, Memorial Day saw the second year in a row of record-breaking floods.
And a few weeks ago, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) asked for comments on the draft 2017 State Water Plan. The TWDB is the state agency responsible for water planning, and every five years it produces a strategy that “addresses the needs of all water user groups in the state – municipal, irrigation, manufacturing, livestock, mining, and steam-electric power.”
In the five years since the last state water plan, Texas has gone from one extreme to the other in terms of water: from the throes of a devastating drought to historic flooding that resulted in some reservoirs being full for the first time in 15 years.
In this climate of feast or famine, we need to better understand our water supplies and conservation efforts, both of which have a strong tie to our energy choices. That’s why Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) weighed in on Texas’ draft water plan. Not only does the state significantly overestimate the amount of water needed to make electricity, but a more comprehensive view of energy in relation to water demand and supply would benefit the 2017 State Water Plan and future plans. Read More
San Antonio and Austin just called a cease-fire on a taco war over which city invented the breakfast taco. Both make excellent tacos: from the traditional chorizo and egg taco in San Antonio to a free-range egg and organic spinach taco in Austin. But this debate was about more than just tacos – it was about the history and culture of these two neighboring cities.
Only 80 miles apart, San Antonio and Austin have some significant differences. San Antonio is known as “Military City USA” largely due to its huge military bases, but it’s also known for other industries like biotech, military medical centers, and a dynamic business relationship with Mexico. The capital city’s economy, on the other hand, is based on high-tech, entertainment, state government, and the behemoth University of Texas at Austin. San Antonio is one of the largest Hispanic-majority cities in the country (at 63 percent in 2010), while Austin’s diversity comes in large part from people flocking to the Capitol from all over the state and country. As someone with roots in both San Antonio and Austin, I appreciate both – I’m an equal opportunity taco lover.
But both cities share an important commonality: exploding population growth. The population of the 13 counties that make up the Austin-San Antonio corridor is estimated to increase by 77 percent by 2050, to 6.8 million people. Extreme growth brings intense pressure on resources and services, particularly water in this drought-prone region. Both cities are standing up to that challenge through careful water conservation measures and by advancing clean energy. Read More
Symbiosis – in which different species have a cooperative or mutually beneficial relationship – is everywhere in nature: honeybees receive vital nutrients from flowers while delivering pollen (male) directly to the female parts of the flower; pilot fish gain protection from predators, while sharks gain freedom from parasites; and dogs protect their owners, while receiving food and shelter. Cited by some scientists as a major driver of evolution, symbiosis has played an important role in the mutual survival of certain species.
Two elements in nature that are also very symbiotic are energy and water: It takes water to produce and distribute energy, while energy is used to treat, pump, and distribute water. This inextricable link is knowns as the energy-water nexus. Yet, energy and water planners do not treat these important resources as symbiotic “species,” resulting in a lot of waste – something we cannot afford with climate change on the rise.
Floating solar panels atop bodies of water, or the cleverly nicknamed “floatovoltaics,” are a possible solution for both energy and water challenges. The panels help to reduce evaporation of water – critical in hot, dry places like Texas and California – and the water helps to keep the panels cool, increasing their efficiency. Plus, compared to more traditional fuel sources, solar PV requires little to no water to produce electricity. Incorporating more solar energy and relying less on coal or natural gas means greater water savings overall.
Floatovoltaics seem like a win-win solution, but it’s not being deployed on a large scale yet. Some countries and U.S. states have surged ahead in testing this technology. So why isn’t a state like Texas, with big reservoirs, crippling droughts, and lots of solar potential, taking this bull by the horns? Read More
2015 proved to be another weird weather year around the country, especially for Texas. 80 degrees and dry in Austin on Christmas Day, spring wildflowers in bloom, and kids playing outside in shorts – a surprise ending to a wild ride of drought followed by devastating floods followed by drought and then more floods.
Texas is used to drought-flood cycles and extreme weather, but last year the pendulum seemed to swing wildly from one to the next. And climate models predict intense swings for the future as well: After the next flood is another drought, which will likely be more intense and longer than usual due to climate change.
Unfortunately, it seems like during our brief respites from drought, we also take a break from thinking about water scarcity. After the year we’ve just had, this should not be the case – water security should be at the top of Texans’ minds going into 2016. But there are two promising developments for our water future: the Clean Power Plan and examples that cities in other water-stressed Western states are setting. Read More
By: Christina Wolfe, manager, air quality, port and freight facilities, and Kate Zerrenner, manager, energy-water initiatives
An oxymoron is “a combination of words that have opposite or very different meanings,” according to Merriam-Webster (a commonly given example is “jumbo shrimp”). Ports – with an immense amount of traffic and heavy cargo coming and going – have recently been equated with power plants in terms of air pollution. Some might suggest that the concept of a ‘sustainable port’ is impossible.
It’s not, actually.
Earlier this year, the first “zero-emissions terminal in the world” opened at a port in the Netherlands using equipment that releases no pollutants from a tailpipe and on-site wind energy for power demands. And closer to home, large ports in the U.S. have taken promising steps, like the Port of Seattle’s aggressive energy efficiency initiatives.
Texas ports have some work to do, both to keep up with strong economic growth (like the record year the Port of Houston is projecting) and because Texas already leads the country in climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions. But the good news is there is a way they could very quickly up their game: the use of renewable energy. And in the midst of historic climate talks in Paris, there is no better time for Texas ports to consider commonsense investments that safeguard both public health and the global climate.