New report: Bloomington’s 2018 GHG emissions up compared to 2016, but asterisks abound

On Tuesday night, Bloomington’s department of economic and sustainable development released a new report on greenhouse gas emissions. Based on data presented in the report, citywide numbers for the gases that are causing climate change have gone up by at least 12 percent since the last inventory was taken two years ago.

But the new report is hedged with caveats throughout, cautioning against comparing figures from the two reports, because of changes in methodology between the two years.

The previous inventory was based on 2016 data.

The new report, which is based on 2018 data, says that Bloomington generated community-wide 1,639,657 metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent emissions that year. That compares to 1,375,237 metric tons reported for 2016.

During Tuesday night’s presentation of the new report at city hall, Alex Crowley, director of the city’s department of economic and sustainable development, said the focus now would be on comparing future years with the numbers in the report released Tuesday. He also said a retroactive effort would be made to compute the inventory for the previous report using the current methodology.

To some extent, the new report already tries to adjust figures from the 2016 report.
The total emissions number reported by Bloomington in 2016 was 1,375,237 metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent. But after adjusting for methodology in the solid waste sector, the report released on Tuesday would put the 2016 solid waste number at 132,400 metric tons, instead of the 47,214 tons that was previously reported. That adjustment puts the emissions total for 2016 at 1,460,422 metric tons.

Compared to the solid-waste-adjusted total number from 2016, the 2018 number of 1,639,657 metric tons is 12 percent higher. The 2018 figure is 19 percent higher, if based on the unadjusted solid waste figure from 2016. Continue reading “New report: Bloomington’s 2018 GHG emissions up compared to 2016, but asterisks abound”

September 2019 was Indy’s warmest September on record

September this year at the Indianapolis International Airport was the warmest September on record, based on data from the NOAA Regional Climate Center. Records for the Indy airport go back to 1943.

Thermometer 13925024415866The mean average temperature for September this year was 73.7 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s 2 degrees warmer than the  next-warmest September on record, which came in 2007. It’s about 7 degrees warmer than the mean  of all September averages since 1943, which is 66.9 degrees.

Last year’s September (2018)  ranked 4th warmest since 1943.

Records for Monroe County’s airport go back just a couple of decades. This year’s September numbers are the warmest since 1998 by about a degree—72.1 compared to 71 degrees last year.

Data in the climate center’s database for Indiana University station’s in Bloomington go back to 1896, but temperature data stopped getting reported in late August this year. The Beacon has made some inquiries into that. [Updated Oct. 4, 2019: The word from National Weather Service is: “The IUBloomington station is undergoing some construction so the site is temporarily down. The time table for it being back up and running is unknown due to the construction. But, it will be back.”]

Not counting this year, the warmest September on record for Bloomington came in 1933 with a monthly mean average temperature of 74.5 degrees. If the airport temperature were taken as a proxy for the IU station, this year’s 72.1 degrees would rank as the 10th warmest September since 1896.

Swapping in Monroe County airport numbers would be a tricky business—the monthly averages can differ by as much as 3 degrees compared to the IU station.

Continue reading “September 2019 was Indy’s warmest September on record”

New tree study for Bloomington measures canopy at 38 percent, climate strikers demand 60 percent

A key stat from a new tree inventory for the city of Bloomington, released on Tuesday, found its way into a list of climate activist demands presented to Mayor John Hamilton on Friday.

The demands were presented to the mayor a little after 3 p.m. by around 400 people who marched from Dunn Meadow, where Bloomington’s Climate Strike activities had started, to city hall. The third point on the list was:

Get the City of Bloomington to 60% Tree Coverage.

Based on a report delivered on Tuesday to Bloomington’s board of park commissioners  by Aren Flint, an urban forester with Davey Resource Group (DRG), the maximum tree canopy that Bloomington could achieve is 61 percent of its 15,000 acres. So the demand is essentially to max out Bloomington’s potential canopy. (The layer of leaves, branches and trunks of trees that block the view of the ground from above is called the “canopy.”)

The climate strikers’ demand noted that Bloomington’s tree canopy now covers just 38 percent of Bloomington’s area. That’s the figure from Tuesday’s new report, which is a 2018 analysis. Continue reading “New tree study for Bloomington measures canopy at 38 percent, climate strikers demand 60 percent”

Analysis: Small, older batch of voters will decide Bloomington municipal elections this year

The headline for this piece is unlikely to surprise anyone with just a scant knowledge of local Bloomington politics or national election trends.

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Shown are the two districts where Bloomington city elections will be held on Nov. 5 this year, with the names of candidates who will appear on the ballot. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Still, it’s worth adding some precision to some general ideas.  Bloomington’s quadrennial municipal elections—held the year before presidential contests—attract few voters. And those who do vote are older than average.

Based on turnout in past years, I think maybe 1,500 voters will participate in Bloomington’s Nov. 5 elections. That’s about 3 percent of city voters in the registered voter file provided by the Monroe County election supervisor’s office in early July.

Based on participation in past elections, more than half of those 1,500 voters will be older than 60. That’s almost three decades older than the average registered voter in Bloomington.

It’s unfair, of course, to compare an estimated maximum of 1,500 voters this November to the number of registered voters in all of Bloomington. That’s because elections will be held in just two of six city council districts this year. The other four district seats on the city council are uncontested. Also uncontested are races for all city-wide offices—mayor, city clerk and member-at-large city council seats.

Adjusting for just the roughly 16,000 registered voters in District 2 and District 3 combined, an estimated maximum turnout of 1,500 works out to around 9 percent. That doesn’t add up to a point of civic pride.

For District 2, my working estimate for maximum turnout is about 500 voters. I think if one of the two candidates gets more than 250 votes, that will be enough to win the seat. For District 3, I don’t think the turnout will be more than about 1,000 voters. I think if any of the three candidates gets more than 375 votes, that will be enough to win.

For both districts, I think the average age of voters this November will be older than 60.

After the jump, I’ll lay out the numbers behind those estimates. Continue reading “Analysis: Small, older batch of voters will decide Bloomington municipal elections this year”

City council 2020 budget talks look towards ending leaf collection, increasing trash data

The city’s director of public works, Adam Wason, stood at the podium for three hours at Thursday’s 2020 departmental budget hearings held by the Bloomington city council.

He had to present budget proposals for seven different divisions in his department: admin ($1,918,580), animal care and control ($1,903,971), fleet ($3,358,141), street and traffic ($8,331,136), sanitation ($4,360,802), main facilities ($1,192,487) and parking facilities ($2,397,734).

The seven divisions together made for a 2020 public works budget that totals about $23.5 million. It’s an amount that’s more than any other city department, except for utilities, which is proposed at $46.6 million. In contrast to public works, which is supported by general fund money, utilities gets its funding from rate payers.

Even if it’s safe for the 2020 budget, funding for one public works activity—with a total cost pegged at about $936,000—could disappear in 2021: curbside leaf collection. Councilmembers floated the idea of eliminating it next year or at least reducing its scale by promoting composting.

Responding to the council, Wason indicated his support for cutting the program. And deputy mayor Mick Renneisen told the council, “The administration is receptive to a change in the leafing program…”

Renneisen also indicated support for a long-term plan to consolidate public works divisions all under one roof. He said it’s on a timeline that’s far enough away that it doesn’t appear in any of the city’s current long-range capital plans.

While councilmembers, including Steve Volan, generally reacted positively to the presentations Wason gave, Volan was critical of the lack of data provided for one of the divisions: sanitation. Volan wanted some basic data to appear on a slide about trash collection, like the 6,771 tons collected in 2018—which was about 20 percent more than the 5,683 tons the year before. Continue reading “City council 2020 budget talks look towards ending leaf collection, increasing trash data”

2019 on pace to be a big year for Bloomington water main breaks

Not counting any of the half dozen water main breaks in July, the city of Bloomington has tallied 44 breaks so far in 2019.

Is that a big number? Yes, based on the number of breaks over the last six years that are logged in the dataset posted on the city’s B-Clear data portal.

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The broken water main from the intersection of Kirkwood Avenue and Washington Street  lay on the pavement Monday morning. July 22, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The 44 breaks in 2019 so far, through the first six months of the year, are at least 12 more breaks (37 percent more) than in the first half of any of the last six years. So this year looks like it could be on course to match or exceed the 88 breaks tallied in 2016, which is the biggest number for a whole year since 2013.

Causes for breaks recorded in the dataset include ground movement, defect in the pipe, improper bedding, a contractor, temperature changes, and water hammer, among others. Water hammer is a sudden increase in pressure caused when the momentum of all the water flowing in a pipe is brought to a sudden stop.

A dramatic water main break last Sunday, at the busy four-way stop at Kirkwood Avenue and Washington Street downtown, put Bloomington’s drinking water pipes in the news. Continue reading “2019 on pace to be a big year for Bloomington water main breaks”

Drought, not much else, can dampen Indiana fireworks fervor

Over the last few days, as July 4 approached, posts to social media by Bloomington area locals included several complaints about noise from fireworks.


They pointed to increased stress on dogs, cats and kids who are trying to sleep. Also a part of the mix is the impact of fireworks on military veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome.

Similar complaints are reflected in the archives of the Herald-Times at least since 2006, when Indiana’s state legislature decided that Indiana residents should be allowed use consumer fireworks.

It’s hard to know if letters to the editor, op-eds, or a social media posts have had an impact on a typical Hoosier’s decision to set off consumer fireworks. In any case, the effect is not immediately apparent in the data collected by two different departments of Indiana’s state government.

But the numbers from the Indiana Department of Revenue and the Department of Public Health both show significantly less fireworks activity in 2012 compared to the years before and after.

The reason likely has little to do with a public relations effort against fireworks.

In 2012 most of the country was hit by a drought, creating dry conditions that most counties in Indiana addressed with bans on outdoor burning, which included fireworks. Continue reading “Drought, not much else, can dampen Indiana fireworks fervor”

At record high for this time of year, Lake Monroe starting to level off

Wednesday morning, a pontoon pilot approached the Lake Monroe causeway—it’s where SR 446 crosses the reservoir, leaving a gap at the south end for boaters to navigate under the road.

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View looking northwest under the SR 446 causeway across Lake Monroe on June 26, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)

But the captain reversed his engine, brought his craft about, then idled, floating maybe 30 yards west of the underpass. He and his crewmate made quick work of the task that allowed them to navigate through the opening: They unclipped the guy wires and lowered the frame that held the canopy aloft.

They might have had enough clearance to scrape under the bridge, without lowering the sun shade. But the record-high levels of the lake—for this time of year—meant that it would have been close.

The normal level of the lake is 538 feet above sea level. But through Wednesday, Lake Monroe registered about 552.6 feet on the USGS gauge. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which manages the lake, typically reports water levels using the number of feet above the normal pool. That’s currently 14.6 feet. Continue reading “At record high for this time of year, Lake Monroe starting to level off”

U.S. Census Bureau estimates just one-third of Hoosier counties are growing, but state overall is adding residents

The U.S. Census Bureau released its latest population estimates toward the end of last week, with figures for July 2018 broken down by state and county. Indiana as a state is estimated to be growing, but just 33 of the state’s 92 counties show estimated growth. Continue reading “U.S. Census Bureau estimates just one-third of Hoosier counties are growing, but state overall is adding residents”