Environment

40 Gallon Challenge

faucet with running water
Photo: Kara Bonsack

Connecticut residents are invited to join the 40 Gallon Challenge and take on new practices to increase water conservation. The 40 Gallon Challenge is a national call for residents and businesses to reduce water use on average by 40 gallons per person, per day.

As a participant in the challenge, one commits to taking on additionalindoor and outdoor water savings activities. Impactful actions to choose from include: installing a “smart irrigation controller” that adjusts for temperature and precipitation (40 gallons daily savings), replacing an old, non-efficient showerhead with low flow showerhead (20 gallons daily savings), and fixing a leaky toilet and faucet (45 gallons daily savings).

Participation is open to residents and businesses of all states and counties. To sign up, visit http://www.40gallonchallenge.org/and fill out a pledge card.

By Angie Harris

Quantifying Water Use

Angie Harris“New York City is surrounded by water,” Angie Harris says, “I realized it was a great source of beauty, transportation, and recreation. But it was also contaminated and deeply problematic.” Angie grew up in Queens, New York. She realized water was a crucial resource of concern while an undergraduate at New York University studying environmental sciences.

The interdependent relationship of farming, water and land was also intriguing to Angie. Precipitation and ecology are critical to success in farming. She earned her masters’ degree in environmental science at the University of Rhode Island and worked as a research fellow at the Environmental Protection Agency in the Global Change Research Program. Angie joined UConn Extension two years ago as the Program Coordinator for the Agriculture Water Security Project.

The Agriculture Water Security Project is part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)’s Regional Conservation Partnerships Program and promotes conservation assistance to agricultural producers. The program facilitates Extension’s work in ensuring farmers are thinking about and preparing for drought.

“I serve as a resource for farmers, gardeners, and homeowners to guide and advise them on water conservation and drought preparedness and management. I also serve as a network builder and connect them to other existing resources and organizations,” Angie says. She uses a combination of her education, and personal experience as a full-time farmer for three years in her role on the project. “My mission is to increase the adoption of conservation practices and activities throughout the state.”

Extension is assessing how much water farmers use, and completed a statewide water use survey on irrigation practices and water availability concerns. Next, a pilot metering project at 12 farms tracked their weekly water use for two years. The farms included vegetable, dairy, and nursery and greenhouse operations.

“The farmers kept diligent records and it was inspiring to see how they became scientists and water managers. A curiosity emerged around water use and they demonstrated that they really wanted to know how much water they were using and when,” Angie says.

A key turning point in the water project came at the end of 2016, a serious drought year for Connecticut. UConn Extension hosted a drought listening session for farmers at the Capitol and documented their concerns and ideas in a clear way that was communicated with the state Department of Agriculture and NRCS.

Connecticut developed a state water plan over the last few years. Mike O’Neill, associate dean for outreach and associate director of UConn Extension, served on the planning committee and represented agriculture in the plan’s development.

The next step for the Agriculture Water Security Project was helping farmers prepare drought plans and connecting them to financial assistance from NRCS. A total of 10 projects were provided financial assistance related to developing more robust and secure irrigation infrastructure. Projects included new wells and buried irrigation pipeline.

“We helped a couple of farms access funding to install wells, and it continues to be rewarding to see how pleased the farmers are to have the new resources,” Angie mentions. The Extension project continues to offer irrigation and drought planning resources for farmers.

“I’m excited to see farmers living out their values around land stewardship and food production in thoughtful and creative ways. There is always something that people can do, or a small action they can take to be a mindful citizen,” Angie says. “There is always more to learn, for farmers and residents. For instance, knowing how much water it took to make your jeans or plastic food packaging – it’s important for all of us to continue our learning around the impacts of our actions and consumption.”

Angie led UConn Extension’s initiative around the 40-Gallon Challenge, a national call for residents and businesses to reduce water use on average by 40 gallons per person, per day. It quantifies impacts on the linkage between small actions and water use.

Citizens nationwide are encouraged to participate in the 40-Gallon Challenge by enrolling at http://www.40gallonchallenge.org/. Materials were developed and promoted by Angie and Casey Lambert, a student intern, that quantified water saved by various actions residents can take in their home and yard.

Connecticut is no longer in a drought. But the work of stewardship continues. Angie’s goal is to prepare farmers and residents before water resources become a crisis. By encouraging everyone to simplify, we hone in on the essential needs and ensure successful growing seasons in the years to come.

This project is sponsored by USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Award identification 68-1106-15-05.

Article by Stacey Stearns

Hartford County Extension Center Moving

Exchange Building in Farmington is new home of Hartford County Extension Center

Our Hartford County Extension Center is moving. As of Friday, August 3rd, please use the following address and new phone numbers:
Exchange Building – Suite 262
270 Farmington Ave
Farmington, CT, 06032
(860) 409-9050
Fax (860) 409-9080
hartford@uconn.edu
Please be patient with our faculty and staff over the next week as it may take a bit longer than usual to respond to any requests. All educators phone numbers have been updated at extension.uconn.edu.

No Place Like Home: Black Bears are Back

Tracy Rittenhouse and Mike Evans
Tracy Rittenhouse, assistant professor of natural resources and the environment, and Michael Evans, a Ph. D. student of natural resources at a barbed wire pen created to collect hair from bears on Sept. 18, 2013. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Connecticut is bear country. It may sound strange, but western Connecticut is home to a growing population of American black bears. While bears may at times look out of place in the fourth most densely populated state, black bears living around humans is becoming more and more common not only in Connecticut, but across North America. This new reality has instigated new research to understand how bears respond to development, and may require a shift in human perspective to coexist with bears.

Tracy Rittenhouse, assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, focuses her research on how wildlife responds when habitat conditions change. Rittenhouse is interested in key questions about how wildlife interacts in their habitat and what happens as Connecticut becomes a more exurban landscape, defined as the area beyond urban and suburban development, but not rural.

Rittenhouse wants to see from a management perspective what species are overabundant and what are in decline in exurban landscapes. She is interested in looking at the elements of what is called “home” from the perspective of a given species.

In Connecticut, 70 percent of the forests are 60 to 100 years old. The wildlife species that live here are changing as the forest ages. Rittenhouse notes that mature forest is a perfect habitat for bears and other medium-sized mammals as well as small amphibians.

Black bears like this mature forest because they eat the acorns that drop from old oak trees. Forests are also a preferred environment for humans. Exurban landscapes that are a mixture of forest and city are becoming the fastest-growing type of development across the country. The mixture of the city on one hand and the natural environment on the other is positive for humans, but it is not yet clear if wild animals benefit from this mixture.

Exurban landscapes are ideal places for species that are omnivores and species that are able to avoid people by becoming more active at night. Species that shift their behavior to fit in with variations in their environment survive well in exurban locations.

Rittenhouse collaborates with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP) Wildlife Division on real life wildlife issues. “Working with DEEP is my way of making sure I am asking research questions that are applicable to real world situations,” she said. “I often try to identify actions that wildlife management professionals or urban planners can take that will allow a species to live in an area. The action is often simple, often a slight change, but we hope that a small change may keep a species from declining or becoming overabundant.”

“We studied black bears by collecting hair samples. Collecting black bear hair is not as difficult as it sounds, as bears will use their nose to find a new scent even if they need to cross a strand of barbed wire that snags a few hairs. The hair contains DNA and therefore the information that we used to identify individuals. For two summers we gathered information on which bear visited each of the hair corrals every week. In total we collected 935 black bear hair samples,” Tracy says.

As Connecticut residents revel in the open spaces of exurban lifestyles, Tracy Rittenhouse and her students keep watchful, caring eyes on the effects of human behavior on wild animals that have no voice. Home may be where the heart is or where one hangs one’s hat, but for the wild critters of Connecticut, home may be a precarious place as they adapt to change.

Article by Nancy Weiss and Tracy Rittenhouse

Be on the Lookout for Giant Hogweed, an Invasive Plant in CT

giant hogweed
Giant Hogweed in Connecticut. Photo: Donna Ellis

UConn and the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) are asking state residents to be on the lookout for Giant Hogweed, which typically blooms during July. Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is an invasive, non-native plant from Eurasia that was first identified in Connecticut in 2001. This Federal Noxious weed was confirmed in 25 towns in all 8 counties in surveys conducted several years ago, but many of the populations are now under control. The most recent confirmed locations of Giant Hogweed were found in 2011. Numerous reports of suspect giant hogweed plants blooming in Connecticut have recently been received, but to date all of the 2018 reports have been negative. Several plants are sometimes mistaken for giant hogweed, such as the native cow parsnip, which is related to Giant Hogweed but blooms earlier in June. 

Giant Hogweed is a biennial or perennial herbaceous plant that can grow up to 15 feet tall with leaves 5 feet long. The hollow stems of the plant are 2 to 4 inches in diameter. The sap of Giant Hogweed may cause skin to be more sensitive to sunlight and produce painful blisters. Large numbers of small white flowers are borne on umbel-shaped inflorescences that can grow to 2.5 feet across. Giant Hogweed seeds are elliptical in shape, and cow parsnip seeds are heart-shaped on one end (this is the most definitive way to identify the two species). Mature Giant Hogweed seeds can survive in the soil for up to seven years and can float on water for several days, further spreading the plants to new areas. Giant Hogweed has invaded natural areas such as riverbanks and woodland edges, where it displaces native plants and upsets the ecological balance of these important habitats, and it has been accidentally introduced into managed landscapes. 

UConn and the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) are conducting educational outreach to alert the public about Giant Hogweed and its serious health hazards. The CIPWG website (https://cipwg.uconn.edu/giant-hogweed-in-connecticut/) has information on Giant Hogweed with plant descriptions, photos, control options, and an online reporting form. 

To report a Giant Hogweed sighting, we recommend that you first visit the CIPWG website and compare your suspect plant with the photos and descriptions provided. You can then report the plant online via the CIPWG website (click on the link “Report Hogweed Sighting”) or contact Donna Ellis at UConn (email donna.ellis@uconn.edu; phone 860-486-6448). To control Giant Hogweed, follow control recommendations on the CIPWG website. Always wear protective clothing while handling the plants. 

 

Bug Out with UConn Extension

Bee on flower from UConn Extension Bug Week photo contest
2017 Photo Contest Winner. Photo credit: Jeff Gonci

UConn Extension’s Bug Week is right around the corner, and we have programs for the whole family.

Bugs are the unsung heroes of our ecosystem, providing services such as pollination and natural pest control. However, bugs don’t stop at environmental benefits. They have also impacted our culture through the manufacturing of silk, sources of dyes, wax and honey production, food sources, and the improvement of building materials and structures. There are also problem bugs, like the Emerald Ash Borer and Brown Marmorated Stink Bug that are a concern in Connecticut. Visit our website at www.bugs.uconn.edu for featured insects and resources.

All ages are welcome to attend and explore the activities and events dedicated to insects and their relatives. Bug Week programs include:

  • Pests and Guests will be held at the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon on Monday, July 23rdat 5:30 PM. Activities include: cooking with bugs, games and demos for the whole family, and learning about bugs in the garden. Please register at http://s.uconn.edu/4ac or call 860-486-9228.
  • Pollinators at Auerfarm in Bloomfield on Monday, July 23rdwill have a station at the beehive, pollinator plants, and a hands-on make and take activity. The farm is home to a Foodshare garden, 4-H programs and more, offering fun for the entire family. Time is to be determined, with a rain date of Tuesday. Please register at http://s.uconn.edu/4ac or 860-486-9228.
  • Insect Wonders at the Farm: Join UConn Extension faculty and Spring Valley Student Farm staff and students for an interactive, fun-filled ‘buggy’ event. Learn about our amazing and important insect friends by collecting and observing them. Activities for the whole family will include insect collecting, insect-inspired crafts, Bug-Bingo and a scavenger hunt. This event will be held on Tuesday, July 24th from 9-11 AM. The rain date is July 27th.
  • Join the Museum of Natural History, AntU and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology for an exciting afternoon on campus on Thursday, July 26th from 12:30-4 PM. We have tours of the insect collections, an AntU presentation, plus exhibit activities, microscope stations, giveaways, and a live ant colony. There will also be special greenhouse displays. Please register at http://s.uconn.edu/4ac
  • Find out all about insects and where to look for them at Bug Walks at the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon on Saturday, July 28th from 10 AM-1 PM. The program will have live insects on display, right out in the open, plus part of the insect collection from the UConn Natural History Museum, as well as three bug hunts that include going to the butterfly/pollinator garden and the vegetable garden on the property.
  • Connecticut Science Center is celebrating Bug Week from Monday, July 23rdthrough Saturday, July 28th. Lots of things are buzzing around at the Connecticut Science Center during Bug Week. Spend some time in the tropical Butterfly Encounter, participate in bug-themed Live Science programming, come hear a bug themed story during Story Time, and be sure to explore what is flying around the Rooftop Garden. Programs are open to all ages. Please visit the Connecticut Science Centerfor ticket prices.
  • A photo contest is being offered, with three categories: junior, senior and professional. More details can be found at: http://bugs.uconn.edu/photo-contest/

UConn Extension offices are located across the state and offer an array of services dedicated to educating and informing the public on innovative technology and scientific improvements. Bug Week is one example of UConn Extension’s mission in tying research to real life, by addressing insects and some of their relatives.

For more information on Bug Week, please visit our website at www.bugs.uconn.edu, email bugweek@uconn.edu or call 860-486-9228.

CT MS4 Guide

maps and other tools are available online for municipalities working with the MS4 guidelines
The CT MS4 Guide is all available online through UConn Extension’s NEMO program.

The CT MS4 Guide website (http://nemo.uconn.edu/ms4) was established to provide a repository for NEMO trainings, materials, tools, and templates that towns can use and modify to meet local needs. Every year, NEMO will also be providing webinars and workshops to help towns and institutions address the more complex portions of the permit.

In the first year of this program, NEMO educated towns on the new requirements through a series of webinar presentations reaching nearly 500 viewers, travelled to 20 town halls to help staff understand and plan for the new requirements, and held a statewide workshop on detecting and eliminating pollution from the stormwater system. NEMO’s Connecticut MS4 Guide (http://nemo.uconn.edu/ms4) is an online repository for guidance, templates, data, and other tools to help communities comply with new statewide stormwater regulations. NEMO also developed templates that towns could use to create a Stormwater Management Plan, an annual report with town progress for DEEP and citizens, and model local ordinance language to respond to requirements in the permit.

Article by Amanda Ryan, Dave Dickson and Chet Arnold

Supporting Communities Responding to New Stormwater Regulations

a group works with Amanda Ryan from UConn Extension on municipal stormwater regulations or MS4UConn Extension’s Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) program is a national leader in developing innovative approaches to help communities address water quality issues. NEMO has been working directly with Connecticut municipalities for 26 years, won multiple national awards, and inspired a national network of sister programs in 33 states. Over the past year, the program has undertaken an innovative new role, as NEMO has become an advisor, helper and cheerleader for the 121 municipalities in the state charged with meeting stringent new stormwater regulations.

In 2017 a new statewide regulation under the Clean Water Act went into effect that significantly changed the way municipalities and state and federal institutions must manage stormwater runoff. The long-awaited update to the State’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit is more targeted, specific and extensive than the previous permit, placing a great deal more responsibility on municipalities to reduce the amount of pollution entering waterways via local storm drain systems. Many municipalities were overwhelmed by the challenge of learning, planning, and budgeting for the new stormwater control measures, particularly in the midst of increasingly strained local funds.

In an effort to lessen that burden on towns, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) entered into a unique partnership with the NEMO program, part of the Center for Land Use Education and Research, or CLEAR – a university center based out of Extension and the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. DEEP is providing support to NEMO through a grant to create and implement a multifaceted assistance program for MS4 towns and institutions throughout the five-year term of the new regulation. The NEMO program hired a new Municipal Stormwater Educator, Amanda Ryan, as a “circuit rider” available to work with any towns or institutions to explain the new requirements and how they can go about complying with them.

This nationally unique approach of providing outreach in partnership with Extension to lessen the burden of complex new regulations appears to be paying off. Last year all of the 121 regulated municipalities submitted their permit registration within the first 6 months of the effective date of the regulation, that was much quicker than under the previous permit without NEMO support for communities. As DEEP staff put it, “When we originally issued the MS4 permit in 2004 it took over 2 years to get all the towns registered. We also issued over two dozen Notices of Violation in 2006 and three Consent Orders in 2008 for towns that either hadn’t completed the registration process (it was a two-step process back then) or hadn’t submitted any annual reports or both. Needless to say, this time around has shown much better success. Frankly, our success in getting such good compliance this time around has to do with you folks (NEMO).” This program has also saved DEEP staff time answering individual questions from towns and enabled the development and dissemination of guidance on some of the murkier permit requirements, two roles that NEMO has taken on in this first year.

From the towns’ perspective, the templates and tools NEMO developed saved them the time and expense of developing those on their own and/or hiring consultants to develop them. NEMO also developed a new MS4 map viewer (http://s.uconn.edu/ctms4map) that will help the towns prioritize where to focus their efforts to most effectively impact water quality. The map viewer identifies water bodies considered impaired by stormwater runoff and areas of high impervious cover. In addition, the towns now have an alternate source to consult for advice on complying with the permit, rather than ask those who are also responsible for judging their compliance with the MS4 permit.

As one town put it, “I would like to thank the Center for Land Use Education And Research (CLEAR) for the assistance it has provided to the Town of East Hartford and other communities in the State with the MS4 program. The information and assistance provided by CLEAR has enabled our Town to save precious resources while complying with the requirements of the MS4 Permit.” – Warren Disbrow, Assistant Town Engineer, East Hartford, CT

The effort is also showing ancillary benefits to the state. One of the data layers in the MS4 map viewer is a new statewide high resolution impervious cover data layer acquired by NEMO to help communities identify high impervious cover areas. A geospatial expert at Esri, the primary GIS software company, found the new layer and combined it with parcel and address data to create a new statewide building address layer. The state Office of Policy and Management (OPM) reports that the new layer saved the state more than $500,000 to acquire on their own.

While just over a year in to this 5-year partnership, the initial results suggest a potentially efficient and cost effective new model for states to launch and manage new environmental regulations. For a small investment, this approach makes it easier for MS4 communities to meet more stormwater requirements and results in a higher level of compliance – not to mention the additional environmental benefits of improving stormwater management practices across the state.

Article by Amanda Ryan, Dave Dickson, and Chet Arnold

MS4 General Permit Webinar

storm drain with bricks around the edge and water in the bottomOur UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) is presenting on webinar on Tuesday, June 26th at 2 PM on the Year 2 Task List for MS4 General Permits.

Connecticut’s updated MS4 permit begins its second year on July 1st. Now that a year has passed, MS4 towns and institutions may be getting the hang of things but with a new year comes at least a few new tasks. 

This webinar will cover the permit tasks that recur each year, highlight the new tasks due over the next year and provide an update on upcoming workshops and new tools.
Presenters:

Amanda Ryan, Municipal Stormwater Educator & Dave Dickson, NEMO Co-Director