On Thursday night our class welcomed speakers from the North Central Council of Governments (NCTCOG) and the Texas AgriLife Extension service. I wish that I could say that the evening’s speakers left me feeling optimistic about the current state of environmental affairs in the region, but it did not. Instead, the information presented was a stark reminder of the serious issues that we face here in the metroplex. I am thankful that there are very talented and intelligent individuals working to help solve some of the pressing challenges facing us in relation to air quality and water use, but I realize that it is going to take all us doing our part to improve air quality and save water.
Our first speakers were from the Air Texas department of NCTCOG. Mindy Mize is the Program Manager and Whitney Vandiver is the Communication Specialist for this program. These ladies are actively involved in the planning, education, and implementation of a number of initiatives that are designed to help North Texas reach attainment of the EPA air quality emission standards. At this time, North Texas is in non-attainment in the areas of carbon, ozone, and lead levels in a 9 county area.
The Air Texas division responsibilities include: reducing congestion, enhancing air quality, and reducing emissions. They are working to reduce the following 6 criteria pollutants:
- Carbon Monoxide
- Nitrogen Oxides
- Particular Matter
- Sulfur Dioxide
I asked the presenters about the implications of non-attainment and they stated that our area can loose federal highway funds and businesses will be discouraged from relocating here due to tighter restrictions if something is not done to remedy the situation. At the human level it is obvious that unhealthy air will have devastating effects on the health of our citizens – especially the young and elderly.
So, what can be done? Several suggestions were provided:
- Understanding Ozone Season
- Learn the Air Quality Index (AQI)
- Listen/watch for Air pollution watches and warnings
- Sign up for air pollution watches
- Observe the speed limit
- Use mass transit
- Walk/bike to work or errands
- Bring your lunch to work/school
- Avoid idling
- Combine trips or drive less
- Confirm you are up-to-date on regular vehicle maintenance and state emissions and safety inspection
- Use energy star appliances and switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs
- Tell others about air quality program
In addition to individual changes, NCTCOG has a number of programs that are designed to incentivize individuals and businesses to improve the emissions of their vehicles. There is much more to learn about what NCTCOG and others are doing to improve air quality in the area. See the following links for more information:
Our second speaker of the evening was Steve Chaney. Steve is the Horticulturalist for the Tarrant County Texas AgriLife Extension Service and he spoke to us about sustainable gardening practices, water conservation and landscaping.
I found the information that he presented regarding the current drought in Texas to be sobering. It is projected that Texas will lose 5 – 15 million trees this year due to the current drought. He also discussed current lake levels and informed us that current predictions indicate that if trends continue 2/3 of states will short of water in 5 years. To add to matters, our water quality is being compromised due to pollution runoff from a variety of sources. Texas currently uses between 8 and 9 billion of water per day, aquifers are recharged at a rate of 4 to 5 billion gallons per day. Our water issues will be further complicated in the future due to increasing populations and forecasts more a continuation of the current drought.
What can be done? Fortunately, many things are possible but it will require that individuals, businesses, and the government take action. Some suggestions are included in the Basic Principles of Sustainable Landscaping:
- Planning and design
- Soil analysis and preparation
- Plant selection
- Practical turf areas
- Efficient irrigation
- Landscape best management practices
Mr. Chaney recommends that people consider landscaping their yards with 1/3 turf, 1/3 planting beds, and 1/3 permeable hardscape that will reduce the need for irrigation and reduce water cost. An added bonus is that these landscapes require less mowing which reduces air pollution and time spent mowing.
I plan to do my part to reduce water consumption, and free up some time, by following Mr. Chaney’s recommendation in my own yard. Because my lot is ½ acre, I need a landscape that is water wise and requires little maintenance. There are many qualified landscape designers in the area that specialize in native Texas landscapes. There are also many online resources that provide information for free. Below are some links that I’ll be using as I transform my lawn into a sustainable, beautiful oasis.
Photo and data sources: