Connecticut towns are increasingly recognizing the impact of stormwater runoff on water quality. Low impact development (LID), also called green stormwater infrastructure, is a major strategy to address these issues. The Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) program at the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) has been working with towns on these issues since 1991. With NEMO’s 25th anniversary looming and a major revision of Connecticut’s stormwater regulations in the process of being finalized, NEMO, with the help of a UConn Extension intern, recently completed a 9-month study on the status of LID adoption in towns across the state.
LID is a broad strategy involving a number of stormwater practices designed to infiltrate runoff back into the ground, reducing flooding, erosion, and water pollution problems. These strategies include permeable pavements, green roofs, bio retention areas, and other practices designed to reduce impervious cover. Some towns have updated their regulations to allow for or even require the use of these practices where feasible. Others however have lagged behind and actually have regulations that discourage or prohibit developers, often inadvertently, from pursuing them. NEMO’s study sought to get a better handle on the progress made on this front.
The NEMO study had two phases. In Phase One, NEMO research assistant Manon LeFevre conducted exhaustive (and exhausting) internet research on the land use plans and regulations of 85 of CT’s 169 towns (the number of towns was dictated by available resources and is not a scientifically random sample). Towns were “scored” for the number of LID strategies that appeared in these documents, based on the 14 specific practices suggested in the 2009 NEMO guide Developing a Sustainable Community. A guide to Help Connecticut Communities Craft Plans and Regulations that Protect Water Quality.
In Phase Two, follow-up phone interviews were conducted for the vast majority (78) of these towns by Low Impact Development in Connecticut Manon and Kerrin Kinnear, an Extension Intern in the UConn Environmental Studies program. Kerrin and Manon doggedly pursued town planners and other municipal staff to ascertain the reasons why their town did or did not pursue LID, the greatest barriers they face related to this type of development, and if they had any recommendations for us.
As NEMO educators have long thought, the greatest driver of LID regulations at the local level are local champions—either staff or land use commissioners. Thus efforts to educate and empower those audiences are still the most effective way of making LID commonplace (table, lower left).
On the barriers side, cost and lack of educational opportunities about LID were the top vote getters (table, lower right). However, many of the barriers can also be viewed as education issues. The cost category also encompasses perceptions that LID is more expensive, although that is not always the case and education about the true costs could help that. Reluctant town staff were also among the top vote getters for barriers, but education directed at those audiences may also help allay some of their concerns. Finally, long-term maintenance was often cited as an area of concern and more could be done through education and assistance to help address that.
In sum, the results of the NEMO LID study provide some useful information to help guide the future municipal assistance efforts of CLEAR, CT DEEP, and others. Most towns in Connecticut seem to have at least some language related to low impact development (LID) in their plans and regulations, largely due to the work of dedicated local proponents. However, not all of this this leads to regulations outlining specific LID practices, and additional resources are needed, with incentive funding and education leading the list of needs. This project was partially funded by UConn Extension and CT DEEP.