Land Use

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

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

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
 

 

Laura Brown Recognized for Trail Census Work

Laura Brown receiving award for CT Trail Census work
Laura Brown receives her award from Bruce Donald of the CT Greenways Council.

The Governor’s Greenways Council on Friday commended eight individuals, and a volunteer committee of the Last Green Valley, that have made significant contributions to the promotion, development and enhancement of Greenways – linear open space in Connecticut – and designated three new State greenways at a ceremony at the Nathan Lester House, in Ledyard.

Laura E. Brown, MS, CEcD, Community & Economic Development Educator, University of Connecticut – Department of Extension, Fairfield County Extension Center – received the CT Greenways Council’s Education Award for development of the CT Trail Census (https://cttrailcensus.uconn.edu/ )
“Our State Designated Greenways provide great opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, whether you want to commute to work, exercise or shop using a bicycle, or simply go for a walk on a beautiful day,” said. Susan Whalen, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP). “Greenways and trails provide opportunities to local residents and visitors alike to enjoy the fresh air, while helping to boost the economy throughout Connecticut by visiting local restaurants and shops along the way.”
Bruce Donald, Chair of the CT Greenways Council, and Tri-State Coordinator for the East Coast Greenway Alliance stated: “Trails reinvigorate our souls. They strengthen our bodies. They build our communities in myriad ways we didn’t comprehend even ten years ago. They are a part of the fabric of Connecticut.”
Greenways in Connecticut cover thousands of acres throughout every county in the state and may include paved or unpaved trail systems, ridgelines, or linked parcels of open space. Many communities around Connecticut have chosen, through greenway designation, to also recognize the importance of river corridors for natural resource protection, recreational opportunities, and scenic values. The CT Greenways Council website contains details on how to get designations, assistance and a map of our State Greenways.  www.ct.gov/deep/greenways

Understanding Gypsy Moth Outbreaks

gypsy moths on tree
Photo: Tom Worthley

Gypsy moths (also known as the North American Gypsy Moth or the European Gypsy Moth) were imported to North America from Eurasia in 1869 for a silk production experiment. They have caused periodic defoliations in New England since then and particularly severe defoliations in the early 1980s and again in Connecticut and Massachusetts in 2016 and 2017. (Gypsy moths do not build webs – the webs you see in cherry trees are tent caterpillars.)

Female moths lay between 500 and 1,000 eggs that overwinter until spring when they hatch. Eggs are usually found underneath the bark scales of trees, on trunks, branches or other protected sites. Eggs last for 8-9 months before they hatch. Adults only live for about one week while they mate and lay eggs. Gypsy moth populations can persist with very low numbers for years but under the right conditions can have outbreak years where populations explode.

The caterpillars feed on leaves of most deciduous trees and many conifers as well. After feeding for some time they descend to the ground by means of silk threads to change size (molt). Silk threads and numerous hairs on the bodies of small, early-instar (stage) caterpillars allow them to be spread by the wind. These caterpillars change size three times before entering the pupal stage and maturity.

Gypsy moths only damage trees during the larval (caterpillar) stage when they are feeding on the leaves, and leaf-feeding and defoliation is the only type of damage they do. In high numbers they can completely defoliate the trees. One gypsy moth caterpillar can eat as much as eleven square feet of leaf area.

Most deciduous trees have the ability to re-set buds and produce a second set of leaves following defoliation.

dead caterpillars on tree
Photo: Tom Worthley

Coniferous trees do not have this ability. Multiple defoliations can be problematic for the trees. Gypsy moth caterpillars will feed on most tree and shrub species (500 total species!) but prefer oak and beech. Tulip trees (yellow poplar) are not affected. Pines and hemlocks are likely to die after one defoliation.

Multiple defoliations combined with drought are causing individual tree and stand-level mortality in some areas. Trees that have not “leafed-out” in 2018 can be seen in numerous locations around the state. In some places, large individual roadside trees and trees near structures that have died present potential future safety hazards. In forest stands on state and private forest lands, sufficient oak mortality can be observed to warrant consideration of forest harvesting activities to salvage timber value. Private woodland owners are well advised to consult with a CT-Certified Forester to evaluate their woodland conditions. (Links provided below.)

Since the 1980s, a fungus from Japan, Entomophaga maimaiga, has been keeping gypsy moth populations under control but during dry conditions the fungus is less active. Gypsy moth populations seem to explode when there are dry conditions during the spring and summer months.

Natural controls include:

  • Birds (limited effectiveness, small instars only)
  • Vertebrates (deer mice and shrews)
  • Invertebrates (ants and ground beetles, parasitic flies and wasps)
  • Viral Disease Wilt
  • Pathogens like Entomophaga maimaiga fungus

There are a few management tools available:

  • Bacteria-based treatments exists.
  • Soapy water sprays (horticulture soap/oils mixed with water).
  • Traps to catch adults.
  • Finding and destroying egg masses (too late for 2018).

Pesticides are not commonly used because of chemical toxicity and are impractical for entire forests. If used for an individual tree be sure to read the label.

On the UConn campus in Storrs the arborist crew will spray some campus trees using bio-based spray. Trees that don’t leaf out will be removed. Some salvage of dead trees in the UConn Forest will take place as appropriate for fuel wood and saw logs. Inspections will be done in early summer.

A Certified Forester should be consulted for stand-level management and a licensed arborist for individual trees near homes and buildings. More information is available from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection: http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2697&q=589362&deepNav_GID=163 and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station; http://www.ct.gov/caes/site/default.asp .

To find an arborist link to the CT Tree Protective Association, www.ctpa.org.

Article by Tom Worthley

Is there any hope to fix our salt problem? Perhaps…

Another winter has finally ended, and messy roads and salty cars are quickly becoming a distant memory. Where did all that salt go? The millions of tons of deicing salts that get applied to our roads either wash off into local streams, or move into the local groundwater. Yet another research study has recently come out documenting the harmful effects this salt is having in the environment (see UConn Today article). Salt impacts aquatic life in streams, vegetation, and drinking water wells, creating a human health concern. Unfortunately there is no good cost-effective alternative available at this point.

Faced with this situation, New Hampshire decided to attack this problem at the source: reduce how much salt is being applied to the landscape. The Green SnowPro certification program provides municipal public works staff and private contractors with training on how to more efficiently apply deicing salts while still keeping the roads safe for travel. Information is provided on how salt actually works, what the impacts are on the environment, how to calibrate equipment, how much salt to apply given the weather conditions, and how to use anti-icing strategies. Another benefit of the program is that businesses who hire certified applicators receive reduced liability from damages arising from snow and ice conditions, creating an incentive for businesses to hire trained contractors. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has reported that the program is helping to reduce salt application across the state.

Given the recent success of the program in New Hampshire, the program is being adapted here in Connecticut. UConn’s Tech Transfer Center has partnered with CT DOT, DEEP, and UConn CLEAR to pilot the program for municipal public works staff. The pilot session will be later this summer- check the T2 website for details. The goal is to expand the program to private contractors, just as New Hampshire has done.

Although our salt problem will not be fixed overnight, programs like this offer the best hope to tackle this very serious problem.

By Mike Dietz

Originally posted on CLEAR.UConn.edu

Reducing Costs and Improving Water

UConn campus in the snow
A snowy view of North Eagleville Road on Jan. 30, 2018 showing renovovations including a new median, expanded sidewalk and stone wall. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Michael Dietz from UConn Extension/CLEAR worked with the Tech Transfer Center at UConn to provide a winter operations training for UConn facilities staff. As a result of the training, salt applications were reduced by 3,600,000 pounds, improving water quality, and saving UConn roughly $200,000. Thanks to the UConn winter operations staff and the Tech Transfer Center for helping to make this happen.