Natural Resources

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
 

 

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.

Dealing with Storm Damaged Trees

By Tom Worthley, UConn Extension

 

tree down across road in Brookfield, Connecticut on May 15, 2018
Tree down in Brookfield, Connecticut on May 15, 2018. Photo: Jeremy Petro

On May 15, 2018, late in the afternoon, a striking example of one of those “severe weather events” we see quite often these days passed through my neighborhood in Higganum. Severe winds, downpours, lightning and thunder all were part of a wicked and deadly storm that ripped limbs from and uprooted trees, downed powerlines and damaged buildings and vehicles in other parts of the state. Images on TV news and social media of damage and cleanup efforts have been striking.

For my part, because of the sudden and severe nature of the winds, and the near-continuous display of lightning, I was as nervous I ever remember being about a storm event and the potential for damage to my humble little house from trees and limbs. Sure enough, one large limb, from the top of a large red oak, did get ripped off and came down about 20 feet from where I park my car. There is, of course, a mess of smaller twigs and branches as well. No real property damage, thank goodness, but it was close. The storm was over a quick as it began, and now, just like many folks around the state, I’m faced with a clean-up task. It’s not a real problem for me; that broken limb is at the edge of the woods and will make a nice neat little pile of firewood.

For many people, however, the task of cleaning up storm-damaged trees is not so straightforward and simple. Many damaged trees are huge and are left in precarious, unstable positions. Storm-damaged trees are fraught with abundant problems, dangers, and risks. Cutting, cleaning up and salvaging downed, partially down or damaged trees is one of the most dangerous and risky activities an individual can undertake.

In viewing the news reports, photos and social media posts I have been shocked and horrified by the personal risks that people are taking to cut up downed trees in cleanup efforts. Pictures of men operating chain saws in shorts and t-shirts, climbing downed tree limbs (and standing on them!) to cut them, working with no personal protective equipment, etc. – it can all be quite distressing for a person familiar with the potential danger. No professional arborist or logger I know does chain saw work without personal protective equipment – and these are the experts!

It cannot be emphasized enough that without personal skill and a thorough knowledge of equipment capabilities, safety procedures and methods for dealing with physically stressed trees, an individual should never undertake this type of work on their own. The very characteristics that make the wood from trees a great structural material can turn leaning, hanging or down trees into dangerous “booby-traps” that spring, snap, and move in mysterious ways when people try to cut them. They can cause serious and life threatening injuries. Just because your neighbor or relative owns a chain saw, it doesn’t make them qualified to tackle a large tree that is uprooted or broken. Contacting a Licensed Arborist, or Certified Forest Practitioner with the right equipment, training, and insurance, is the best alternative for addressing the cleanup and salvage of storm damaged trees, and avoiding potential injury, death, liability and financial loss.

That said, there are a few things a homeowner can do about trees that are damaged and/or causing other damage around a home site:

  • First, from a safe distance note the location of any and all downed utility lines. Always assume that downed wires are charged and do not approach them. Notify the utility company of the situation and do nothing further until they have cleared the area.
  • Don’t forget to LOOK UP! While you may be fascinated with examining a downed limb, there may be another one hanging up above by a splinter, ready to drop at any time.
  • Once you are confident that no electrocution or other physical danger exists, you can visually survey the scene and perhaps document it with written descriptions and photographs. This will be particularly helpful if a property insurance claim is to be filed. Proving auto or structure damage after a downed tree has been removed is easier if a photo record has been made.
  • Take steps to flag off the area or otherwise warn people that potential danger exists.
  • Remember that even if a downed tree or limb appears stable, it is subject to many unnatural stresses and tensions. If you are not familiar with these conditions, do not attempt to cut the tree or limb yourself. Cutting even small branches can cause pieces to release tension by springing back, or cause weight and balance to shift unexpectedly with the potential for serious injury. Call a professional for assistance.
  • Under no circumstances, even in the least potentially dangerous situation, ever operate, or allow anyone on your property to operate a chainsaw without thorough knowledge of safe procedures and proper safety equipment, including, at the minimum, hardhat, leg chaps, eye and hearing protection, steel-toe boots and gloves.

An assessment of the damage to individual trees, or more widespread damage in a forest setting is best undertaken by an individual with professional expertise. Homeowners should contact an Arborist to examine trees in yards or near to structures, roads or power lines. A Certified Forester is qualified to evaluate damage in the forest to trees and stands and advise landowners about the suitability of salvage or cleanup operations. The CT-DEEP Forestry Division can provide information about contacting a Certified Forester or Licensed Arborist. Check the DEEP Website, http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2697&q=322792&deepNav_GID=1631%20

or call 860-424-3630. Listings of Licensed Arborists can also be found at the CT Tree Protective Association web site, www.CTPA.org.

While a nice tidy pile of firewood from a tree that was damaged in a storm might be the silver lining, it is not worth the risk of injury to yourself or someone else when tackling a very dangerous task without the proper knowledge, equipment or preparation.

Can I Water Vegetables with my Rain Barrel Water?

By Joan Allen

Originally published by the UConn Home & Garden Education Center

rain barrel against side of house in with shrubs
Photo credit: CT DEEP

Collection of rain water from roofs using rain barrels is growing in popularity because of its many environmental and practical benefits. It can help the environment by diverting water that might contain contaminants away from storm drains and the natural bodies of water that those empty into.  Depletion of well water can be a benefit when this non-potable water is used instead of the tap for things like washing cars, irrigation of plants, and flushing toilets. If you’re on a city/public water system, it can save money to use rain water where you can, too. But is using rain water to irrigate vegetables and fruits safe? Are there contaminants in it that could make people sick? Let’s take a look at what’s been studied.

A few universities in the U.S and abroad have done some work to look at potential contaminants in roof run-off water including heavy metals like zinc, copper, lead and others as well as bacteria such as E. coli and other pathogens. Testing done so far has shown low risk from these, but there is some. And of course, it depends on the type of roofing material, the environment (ie acid rain, urban vs. rural, etc) and possibly other factors. In one study, most of the metals tested the same in rain barrel water as in rain water before it hit the roofs, so little to no concern there. One exception was zinc, and elevated levels could lead to build up of this element in soils. At high enough levels, this can cause injury to plants and those plants should not be consumed (1). Monitor for this by having the soil tested.

While risk appears to be low, there were a few samples in studies (1, 2) where E. coli or total coliform bacterial levels exceeded official standards for some uses. Rain barrel water should NEVER be used for potable purposes such as drinking water, cooking or washing. Where do the bacteria in run-off come from? The main sources would be fecal matter from animals such as squirrels and birds that land and move around on the roof.

But if you’d like to water your vegetable garden with rain barrel water, are there ways to do it safely?

Dr. Mike Dietz, Assistant Extension Educator at UConn with expertise in water management recommends “not using roof water on anything leafy that you are going to eat directly. It would be OK to water soil/plants where there is no direct contact”. This is consistent with recommendations from other experts who suggest applying the water directly to the soil and avoiding contact with above-ground plant parts. An ideal set-up would be to hook up a drip irrigation system to your rain barrel(s). Pressure will be improved when they are full and if they are elevated. A full rain barrel can be pretty heavy, at about 500 lbs. for a 55 gallon unit, so make sure they are on a solid and stable base such as concrete blocks.

If possible, and this is done in larger collection systems automatically, don’t collect the ‘first flush’ of water off the roof. This would be the first few gallons. In a ¼” rainfall as much as 150 gallons can be collected from a 1000 ft2 roof surface (3). The first water to run off tends to have higher concentrations of any contaminants because of them building up on the roof since the previous rainfall event.

Another more practical way to minimize risk of pathogen/bacterial contamination is to treat the collected water with bleach. Rutgers University recommends treating 55 gallons of water by adding one ounce of unscented household chlorine bleach to the barrel once a month (or more often if rain is frequent). Allow this to stand for 24 hours before using the water for irrigation so the bleach can dissipate.

Apply collected water in the morning. Wait until leaves dry in the sun before harvesting. Ultraviolet light from the sun will have some disinfecting effect.

It is recommended to have the rain barrel water tested for E. coli. Be sure to follow the testing lab’s instructions for collection, storage and time sensitivity of the samples.

Thoroughly wash all harvested produce. In addition, you should always thoroughly wash your hands with warm, soapy water after they are in contact with collected water.

In summary, there are risks to using collected rain water for irrigation of food crops. In most cases, the risk appears to be low, and using the above sanitation practices can reduce risk.

References:

  1. DeBusk, K., W. Hunt, D. Osmond and G. Cope. 2009. Water quality of rooftop runoff: implications for residential water harvesting systems. North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.
  2. Bakacs, M., M. Haberland and S. Yergeau. 2017. Rain barrels part IV: testing and applying harvested water to irrigate a vegetable garden. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. Fact Sheet FS1218.
  3. Rainfall as a resource. A resident’s guide to rain barrels in Connecticut. CT DEEP.

Another Win for Rain Gardens

By Amanda Ryan

Originally published by the Center for Land Use Education and Research

aerial image of retention pond in residential neighborhood
Image of retention pond from Activerain.com

It’s well known that rain gardens are great for infiltrating stormwater but people may not realize that they also help destroy common stormwater pollutants. Several studies have found that rather than accumulating pollutants in their soils, rain gardens tend to biodegrade them instead. One study (LeFevre et al., 2011) investigated petroleum hydrocarbon levels in 58 rain gardens in Minneapolis, MN representing a wide range of sizes, vegetation types, and contributing area land uses. The researchers found that petroleum hydrocarbon levels were well below regulatory limits in all the rain gardens sampled. And a tip for future rain garden installers, rain gardens planted with more robust vegetation with deeper roots did a better job at breaking down pollutants than those planted with only turf grass.

A rain garden’s ability to biodegrade pollutants is in contrast to what happens in more conventional stormwater management structures like retention ponds. Retention ponds are often installed with larger developments to receive a large volume of stormwater from impervious areas (ex. houses and roads in a subdivision, roof and parking lot of a Home Depot). Other studies (Van Metre et al., 2009; Van Metre et al., 2000; Kamalakkannan et al., 2004), found that pollutants like PAH’s (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), a type of petroleum hydrocarbon, accumulate in the sediments of stormwater retention ponds. This creates a very expensive maintenance issue for retention pond owners when the time comes to remove and dispose of built up contaminated sediments.

Side note – stormwater can pick up PAHs from dust on pavements treated with coal tar  sealants which are commonly used on parking lots, driveways, and playgrounds (but they have recently been banned from use on State and local highways in CT).

If by now you’re energized to install one or many rain gardens on your property, check out NEMO’s  rain garden site and Rain Garden App!

What Do You Do After You Scoop?

By David Dickson

Originally published by the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research

cartoon of lady and dog scooping poop and not placing it in stormwater drain
Image courtesy of Rhode Island Stormwater Solutions

On my drive home last week I saw two of my neighbors walking their dogs. One of the dogs had just done his business and the owner dutifully scooped it up with a doggy doodie bag dangling from the dog’s leash. Excellent, I thought, he knows that dog poop left on the street can be carried by stormwater into our storm drain and then pollute our waterways with bacteria. As a water quality educator, I was pleased to see the “scoop the poop” message was getting out.

However, my neighbor then proceeded to drop the doodie bag directly into the storm drain! So, there is still work to do. Once you scoop it, you need dispose of it properly – either in the garbage or flushed down the toilet (minus the plastic bag). Not carry it directly to the storm drain.

This has gotten me to think more about how we educate the public about the impacts of common everyday activities on our lakes, streams and rivers. Under our new state stormwater management regulations (a.k.a, the MS4 permit) towns are required to educate their citizens on the impacts things like pet waste and fertilizer have on our waters when transported to our storm drain system. However, if towns are going to invest/spend their limited time and resources on public outreach, it makes sense that they ensure they are as effective as possible at conveying the whole message, while also keeping it simple.

CLEAR’s NEMO program is helping communities to identify ways to get these messages out. Our online MS4 Guide has examples of public outreach materials towns can use, but there are other resources as well. URI’s Stormwater Solutions program has some great public outreach materials on scooping and trashing pet waste, including cartoons like the one above. The EPA has a nice stormwater outreach”toolbox” with examples from around the country searchable by topic or media type.

Still, many of these focusing on the scooping, which at least in my neighborhood (and I’m guessing in yours) is only half the battle. So choose carefully.

Maybe someone will come up with a cute phrase that tells people what to do AFTER they scoop. “Scoop the poop and then place it in the proper receptacle” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

Stormwater Research from Extension

stormwater running into a street drain

Our UConn Extension educators working in land use, and the environment have recently published two articles:

Extension Educators Mike Dietz and Chet Arnold have an article, Can Green Infrastructure Provide Both Water Quality and Flood Reduction Benefits?, in the May issue of the Journal of Sustainable Water in the Built Environment. You can read the article online at: http://s.uconn.edu/476

The UConn CLEAR NEMO team recently wrote an article on our State of LID in Connecticut study that was published in the Watershed Science Bulletin. The study looked at what is being required for stormwater management practices by Connecticut municipal land use plans and regulations. Much of the leg work for the study was carried out by our Extension intern a few years ago. The article can be read online at: http://s.uconn.edu/477.