Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

July 13th, 2010:

Nightly News Update: One Last Time

Kuff will be return soon enough after camping out with Sasquatch, Jason Voorhees, and the wild Basselope of Bloom County. If he were here, these might be things he’d be tempted to remark on. Since he’s not, here’s me running roughshod all over the news …

» Lubbock Av-Journal: Redistricting hearing set in Lubbock
The next hearing on the calendar is McAllen -set for Monday. It’s a bit of a contrast, too. McAllen will almost certainly gain a Congressional District centered on Hidalgo County (rather than the current setup, which splits Hidalgo to a district centered on Laredo, CD28, and another one that picks up 10 other counties, CD15). West Texas, meanwhile, will likely lose a bit of everything – a few State House seats, maybe spread the State Senate seats out more, and it will be very challenging to see how they include Congressional seats centered on Amarillo, Lubbock, and Midland/Odessa without ticking off any more of the surrounding areas (Wichita Falls, San Angelo, and Abilene are already divvied up). All that to say that the mood of these two hearings should be vastly different.

» Wash. Post: Harvey Pekar dead: American Splendor comic writer was 70
I actually never knew of the comics that Pekar wrote until the movie American Splendor was in the planning stages. For the longest time, I just thought he was a cranky guy that Letterman introduced to the world. Beyond that, Pekar can easily be thought of as the original blogger by most modern standards. That a misfit like him could find a voice and an audience is something that I suspect most bloggers can admire.

» NY Times: George Steinbrenner, Yankees’ Owner, Dies at 80
Not a fan of the Yankees, so I’ll leave the hagiography to Kuff. It’s still an important loss in the baseball world. I just can’t help thinking that Steinbrenner has already fired St. Peter from guarding the pearly gates.

And the usual news that will lead Kuff to reconsider the wisdom of giving me the keys to this car: Live Aid turned 25 today; Weird Al hits Verizon Theater Saturday night; and Ratt plays the Warehouse Live on the 22nd (unless there’s more drama involving Stephen Pearcy’s hernia). That ought to do it for me … thanks one and all for your patience and forgiving sense of humor!

“Sprayed Away”

A couple of months ago, I blogged about a report on water conservation from the National Wildlife Federation and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. Last week, they came out with a new report, on outdoor water usage and how the demands of summertime increase water consumption in 18 Texas cities, mostly due to things like watering the lawn. From the report:

The report calculates that if these 18 cities achieved just a twenty-five percent reduction in outdoor water use, they could save, collectively, an average of 147 million gallons every day during the summer. The Texas Water Development Board has estimated that about half of the water we use on our landscapes is wasted due to overwatering or runoff. Reducing summer peak usage can also save millions of dollars in treatment costs.

“The potential for easy savings during the summertime is simply staggering,”said Lacey McCormick, Communications Manager with the National Wildlife Federation. “We can have attractive landscapes without watering during the heat of the day, watering our lawns three times a week, or running our sprinklers during the rain. There’s a big opportunity here to save money while protecting our supplies of drinking water.”


The report recommends seven efficiency measures that have a proven track report at reducing landscaping water use. The measures include:

Improving Automatic Irrigation Systems: Irrigation systems are becoming increasingly common in Texas. The American Water Works Association estimates that homes with in-ground irrigation systems use 35% more water than homes without irrigation systems. Many of these systems are not designed or installed correctly-staff at the Austin Water Utility report water waste of 20% to 50% from poor system design. The report recommends that cities should take steps to make sure that these systems are as efficient as possible by offering free system audits and rebates on upgrades such as rain sensors.

Rethinking the Lawn: Over the past five years, permits for close to 600,000 new single family homes have been issued in Texas. Decisions made today about the types of lawns and landscapes to install in new developments have the potential to influence water use for decades to come. Smaller areas of turfgrass and the use of drought-resistant grasses can make a big contribution to reducing water use. Unfortunately, with only a few notable exceptions, Texas cities are currently doing little to guide new developments in this way.

Landscaping Rebates: Cities across the country have created programs paying customers to replace their turfgrass with more water-efficient landscaping. These programs are becoming more common in Texas, with entities such as the City of Pflugerville, San Antonio Water System and BexarMet Water District offering rebate programs. To ensure that customers learn new watering habits, the report recommends that utilities should make payment of rebates contingent on customers actually reducing their water use.

Rainwater Harvesting: Capturing rainwater has real potential as a source of water for Texas. A report published by the Texas Water Development Board estimated that a metropolitan area the size of Dallas could capture roughly 2 billion gallons of water annually if just 10 percent of the roof area was used to harvest rainwater. Although several Texas cities currently offer rebates on rain barrels, this source of water is currently seriously underutilized.

Rate Structures: A strongly tiered rate structure is the most equitable way to price water. Most residential customers use limited amounts of water, placing smaller demands on the system, and should pay less per unit of water as a result. For example, the San Antonio Water System has found that about 80% of their residential customers do not see any significant rise in their bills during the summertime. This indicates that the 30% bump in total water use that San Antonio sees during the summertime is primarily caused by a small portion of the utility’s customers. However, heavy users in most cities usually pay little more-and often less-per thousand gallons than frugal water users.

The full report is here (PDF), and it’s worth your time to read. Remember that regardless of what a city’s average daily water usage is, it has to build infrastructure – treatment plants, pipelines, etc – based on peak usage. Shaving even a bit off that peak can mean the difference between having to spent millions to build and operate another plant, or having to build a larger and more expensive plant, and not having to do so. A little bit of conservation can mean a lot of savings.

Here in Houston, where we are blessed/cursed with generally abundant rainfall, our summer usage only increases by about 14% over winter. Of course, our water rates just went up by 30%, so the potential for savings here is just as great. And on an absolute scale, even though Houston’s consumption rate only increases a little, our total usage increase is among the highest just because we have the most people. As such, if we all trimmed back a bit, the cumulative effect would be large.

Fort Worth gets streetcar funds

Good for them, though they’re not quite ready to jump on it yet.

A downtown streetcar loop could be in Fort Worth’s near future, but the City Council has some serious issues to consider first.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Thursday that an “urban circulator” project submitted by the city and Fort Worth Transit Authority was selected for almost $25 million in federal funding.

But Councilman Jungus Jordan said a feasibility study on the project won’t be finished until September or October, and the council has other projects with higher priority than the 2.5-mile streetcar loop.


The project’s selection for part of $293 million in federal funding means that the city must now apply to the Urban Circulator Grant Program, said Paul Griffo, a Transportation Department spokesman.

Jordan said that application can’t be made until after Council discussions that won’t begin until November, and could take weeks.

I presume the money will still be there when they get around to making the application. Some background on their plans can be found here and here. A full list of what got approved by the FTA is here; Dallas and Brownsville are on the list, though their projects are much smaller than Fort Worth’s, at least in terms of the size of the grant. A statement from State Sen. Wendy Davis, who was previously a Fort Worth City Council member, is here. I wish them well in getting this completed.

Cap and trade would cut the federal deficit

Surely this means all those “deficit hawks” I keep hearing about will rush to embrace the American Power Act now. Right?

The CBO analysis of the American Power Act, championed by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) found that government revenues would grow by about $751 billion from 2011 to 2020 if the bill became law. By contrast, the legislation would create direct spending of $732 billion over the same 10-year period.

Authors of the proposal called the CBO report a “powerful message” ahead of a floor debate next month. They are still searching for a formulation that will draw 60 votes.

“There is no more room for excuses; this must be our year to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation and begin to send a price signal on carbon,” Kerry and Lieberman said in a joint statement. “Many of our colleagues have said they flatly oppose anything that adds a penny to the deficit, so we hope they look anew at this initiative, which reduces it.”

The CBO report is here. Of course, no one actually believes the American Power Act can pass, because we can’t afford it or some such, so the talk is about various alternate approaches that may have a chance of surviving the Senate. No, I don’t understand that either. Texas Vox has more.