Natural Resources

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.

New Rules for Corralling Runoff Require Local Actions

By JUDY BENSON

Haddam – As the state gets wetter, Connecticut cities and towns have little choice but to take better control of the water that flows over streets, parking lots and fields from rainfall and snowmelt.

“There are two drivers related to stormwater,” said David Dickson, faculty member of the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR). “One is climate change. New England is seeing more rain and more intense rainfall events. The other is the MS4 general permit, which became effective in 2017.”

Dickson, speaking at a March 22 symposium sponsored by the UConn Climate Adaptation Academy, explained that MS4 — the shorthand term for the new state regulation for how municipal stormwater is managed — now requires cities and towns to reduce nonporous pavement on streets, sidewalks and parking lots. It also requires they establish “low impact development” practices as the standard for new construction. The state regulation is the result of a federal mandate under provisions of the Clean Water Act requiring gradually stricter rules to curb pollution.

“Towns have to enter into a retrofit program to reduce impervious surface areas by two percent by 2022,” Dickson said. “LID now has to be the standard for development. You can’t just say it’s too costly. This is going to change how we think about site development in this state.”

The third workshop in a series on the impacts of changing weather patterns on local land-use practices, the symposium drew about 50 municipal officials from around the state. It was presented at the Middlesex County Extension Center by the Climate Adaptation Academy, a partnership of CT Sea Grant, CLEAR and the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. The Rockfall Foundation co-sponsored the event.

Overall, the purpose of the session was to educate local officials about “what works and what to watch out for to ensure success” when it comes to implementing low impact development, said Tony Marino, executive director of the Rockfall Foundation.

Dickson, the first of the four presenters, explained that with increasing amounts and intensity of precipitation, the impacts of unmanaged stormwater carrying road and agricultural pollutants into the environment are increasing.

“Stormwater is the top source of water pollution into Long Island Sound,” he said.

An illustration of a bioswale is shown during one of the presentations.
An illustration of a bioswale is shown during one of the presentations.

In the 1990s, low-impact development techniques emerged including “green roofs” covered with planted beds to absorb rainfall, grass swales to replace curbs and gutters, rain gardens and bio-retention areas with trees and shrubs situated to absorb runoff, and permeable pavement that allows water to infiltrate into the soil. That allows the soil to capture pollutants and groundwater to be recharged.

Since then, LID designs have been used at several sites on UConn’s main campus and in the Jordan Cove housing development in Waterford, among other locations around the state. While at least one-third of towns in Connecticut have adopted LID techniques at various levels, Dickson said, the new regulation means all towns will have to commit to making them the standard practice because it’s an economical and effective way to comply with the requirement to curtail stormwater runoff.

“Towns will have to start thinking about where impervious cover drains directly into their stormwater system, and enter into retrofit programs to reduce impervious areas,” he said.

Michael Dietz, water resources educator with CLEAR, said that more than 20 years after they were built, the LID features in the Jordan Cove development are still working. Research shows significantly less runoff coming from the portion of the development with LID compared to the control section built with traditional design features, he said. The LID structures continued to function even when the homeowners failed to maintain the areas correctly, he noted.

“The take-home message is that LID mostly still works, in spite of what people do,” he said.

At the main UConn campus, Dietz said, LID has “become part of the fabric of the design” for all new construction since it was first used in the early 2000s. But over those years, there have been mistakes and lessons learned, he added. In one case, curbs were installed where they weren’t supposed to be so runoff ended up being directed away from a bio-retention area. In another case, the bio-retention area was poorly located on the way students took to a dining hall, creating a compacted path that reduced its effectiveness.

“We failed to factor in people,” Dietz said.

The area, he said, was redesigned with a footpath through the middle that still allowed for runoff capture.

Some of the 50 municipal officials who attended the UConn Climate Adaptation Academy about low impact development listen during one of the presentations.
Some of the 50 municipal officials who attended the UConn Climate Adaptation Academy about low impact development listen during one of the presentations.

In another example, a parking lot next to the field house covered with permeable concrete “totally failed” last year and was allowing for “zero infiltration.” The concrete was not mixed and handled properly, he said, and curing time was insufficient, among other problems. It has been replaced with pre-cast pervious concrete blocks. Other challenges include the need for regular cleaning of pervious pavement to unclog porous spaces.

“You neglect it, it costs you down the road,” Dietz said.

Giovanni Zinn, city engineer for New Haven, said the dozens of bio-retention areas, rain gardens, swales and pervious pavement areas installed around the city do require more planning and attention.

“But if you simplify your designs, the construction will be less costly and they’ll be easier to maintain,” he said. Overall, he added, maintenance costs are less costly than for traditional infrastructure.

He advised choosing low-maintenance plantings and involving local residents and community groups in the projects. Looking ahead, New Haven is planning to build 200 more planted swales to capture runoff in the downtown area and another 75 in other parts of town.

“The bio-swales are the first step in dealing with our flash flooding issues in the downtown,” he said.

David Sousa, the final speaker, is a senior planner and landscape architect with CDM Smith, which has its headquarters in Boston and an office in East Hartford. Instead of talking about development practices to minimize runoff, Sousa focused on “how to avoid it altogether.”

He advocated for compact urban redevelopment over “big box” stores with large parking lots. Not only does this give residents stores and restaurants they can get to on foot, by bicycle or mass transportation, “it also saves acres of green fields.”

“It’s being done in our communities,” he said, citing examples in Mansfield, Stamford and Middletown. “But it’s not being done enough.”

Redevelopment of urban areas, he said, creates communities that use fewer resources, which in turn is better for the environment.

“The carbon footprint of people in cities is so much less than those with suburban lifestyles,” he said. “With less vehicle miles traveled, there is less need for impervious parking surfaces, less stormwater flooding and less emissions. We need to think about ways to avoid using LID in the first place.”

Judy Benson is the communications coordinator at Connecticut Sea Grant. She can be reached at:judy.benson@uconn.edu

Worthley Recognized for Forestry Efforts

Extension educator Tom Worthley received the Ernest M. Gould Jr. Technology Transfer Award today from the New England Society of American Foresters in Nashua, New Hampshire. With Tom are members of the Department of Natural Resources & the Environment: Senior Nick Vertefeuille, Asst. Prof. Bob Fahey, Tom, and PhD candidates Nancy Marek and Danielle Kloster. In the back are Research Technician Amanda Bunce and MS candidate Julia Rogers.Tom Worthley with colleagues receiving award Tom Worthley award recognition

Extension educator Tom Worthley received the Ernest M. Gould Jr. Technology Transfer Award today from the New England Society of American Foresters in Nashua, New Hampshire. With Tom are members of the Department of Natural Resources & the Environment: Senior Nick Vertefeuille, Asst. Prof. Bob Fahey, Tom, and PhD candidates Nancy Marek and Danielle Kloster. In the back are Research Technician Amanda Bunce and MS candidate Julia Rogers.

Install a Rain Garden This Spring

rain garden appWhat is a Rain Garden?

A rain garden is a depression (about 6 inches deep) that collects stormwater runoff from a roof, driveway or yard and allows it to infiltrate into the ground. Rain gardens are typically planted with shrubs and perennials (natives are ideal), and can be colorful, landscaped areas in your yard.

Why a Rain Garden?

Every time it rains, water runs off impervious surfaces such as roofs, driveways, roads and parking lots, collecting pollutants along the way. This runoff has been cited by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as a major source of pollution to our nation’s waterways. By building a rain garden at your home, you can reduce the amount of pollutants that leave your yard and enter nearby lakes, streams and ponds.

Learn more, and use our app or resources to install a rain garden on your property.

CT Trails Symposium

Naugatuck Greenway
Naugatuck Greenway

UConn Extension educators Laura Brown, Kristina Kelly, and Emily Wilson are presenting at the CT Trails Symposium on Thursday, October 19th. The CT Greenways Council, in partnership with Goodwin College, encourages you to engage in conversation about why and how to put your local trail systems to work for your community. Speakers and panels will use local examples to illustrate the demand for and benefits of local trails and how your community can sustain a world class trail system. Registration is only $25 and includes lunch. The full agenda is available online.

 

My 2017 Climate Corps Summer Internship

By Nikki Pirtel

Bruce and students
Student teams led by Bruce Hyde and other CLEAR faculty will work with Connecticut towns as part of the UConn Climate Corps.

The shoreline community of Westbrook, Connecticut, situated halfway between New Haven and New London, is home to approximately 7,000 residents while supporting seasonal tourists with numerous beaches and shopping stores in the town’s outlet. It is also the municipality I was assigned to research and create a vulnerability assessment for during my time at the UConn Extension Office Internship in partnership with the Climate Adaption Academy and Climate Corps. Through the internship I achieved the Extension Office’s mission of using scientific research to engage with members of the public and municipalities, breaking down complex problems and developing easy to understand solutions that may help inform policy in the future.

Using the town’s Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan and various mapping services, I compiled a list of assets that I determined to have some level of vulnerability to climate hazards (such as flooding, sea level rise, damage from high precipitation events) primarily based on their geographical location to bodies of water. Although this information was similar to that described in the town’s plan, my created final product takes the basic material and provides recommended actions to reduce vulnerability, thus going one step further. With my help and the aid of future interns, the municipality can prepare for the impacts already being seen from climate change while simultaneously saving money. Figuring out the best way to protect assets and people within communities, whether proposing solutions on a town wide or specific infrastructure basis (an approach this internship takes with the Climate Corps Information Sheet), is an important discussion to have and comparison to make. Creating the vulnerability assessment was a rewarding process and the completed 38-page document (including references and figures) is something that I am proud to show to anyone willing to learn about the risk-based evaluations. I hope that the work done in this internship will grow into a much more substantial program and help Connecticut become a leader in climate adaptation.

Additional internship responsibilities included website updating and offering recommendations for a role-playing exercise that will occur in a new Climate Corps related class during the upcoming semester. These activities helped me reflect on past, similar experiences so that I could make any changes to proposed material to avoid previous problems I had encountered. Finding links to put on the Adapt CT website (through UConn’s Center for Land Use Education and Research) helped bring out my creative side and allowed me to delve into topics that really interest me.

Although attending meetings (except with the Westbrook town planner) and conducting a field site visit were not a part of my official obligations, seeing people and infrastructure in person really tied everything in the internship together. By seeing the people, along with their properties and other assets, that will be most negatively impacted by climate change in the future, my work felt much more important knowing what I did this summer may have a positive influence in time. Talking to members of shoreline communities from various backgrounds also made me realize that the climate will leave people of all classes vulnerable to events such as sea level rise, storm surge, flooding and tropical storms/hurricanes. Overall, this was more than just a summer job, rather a learning experience teaching me the ins and outs of local government, how input from the public affects an administration’s policies and the importance of maintaining natural landscapes within man-made ones.

Can You Hear Me Now? Smartphone Maps (That Work) Off The Beaten Path

By Cary Chadwick

It’s summer. Family vacation time. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting for this all year. We had planned to take the family west for two weeks in the mountains. Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Off the beaten path. Round up the kids, pack up the camping gear (and also…arrange flights, rent an RV, organize logistics, do we have the bug spray?), and let’s go!

The truth is, in the weeks leading up to the trip, work kept me BUSY (see here) and I slacked when it came to researching the fine details of the trip.  I didn’t worry too much, we had made our critical Yellowstone campground reservations months before. We had a place to stay. We could figure the details out when we got there. But as it turns out, I (like many others) had forgotten one minor detail. These rugged places, some of the most beautiful land our country has to offer, is lacking only one thing…cell phone service. What sounds like a bonus feature of being in the mountains (and it was), also made my on-the-fly planning a little more challenging.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but one thing became pretty clear to me on this trip – we live in a world that relies heavily on the tiny computers we carry around in our pocket. Smartphone devices give us driving directions from point A to point B.  They help us find our way to that secret hot spring, stunning vista, or backcountry waterfall. But, many of these maps and apps rely on the technology of the front country – cell service, to calculate driving directions or ask Siri where the closest ranger station is.

maplets on smartphone
The Maplets app in action in Grand Teton National Park.

So, what’s an ill prepared camper to do? Enter Maplets. Maplets is an offline mapping app that allows users to download georeferenced maps (or georeferenced your own maps!) to a smartphone device and use them, along with the GPS in the device, to find your way around the world – even in the middle of nowhere. Once a user adds a map, it is made available to all Maplets users. There are 1000’s of georeferenced maps available in the app. So when I overheard someone mention that the National Park Service (NPS) Visitors Center had free wifi, I knew what to do. I scurried over, connected to wifi, downloaded the Maplets app on my iPhone ($2.99 – worth every penny) and did a search for user added maps. Several maps of Tetons and Yellowstone popped up, including the official NPS park map. A quick download to my device and suddenly, I was no longer lost in the woods. That familiar blue “current position” marker was placed perfectly on the park service map, indicating my location at the Visitor Center. For the next two weeks, we used Maplets to find our way through the parks and wild places of the west. Highlights of the trip included hikes to glacial lakes in the Tetons, a visit to Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone, and sleeps in the rugged Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. So, Maplets FTW (for the win). Be sure to check it out for your next visit to the backcountry! You’re guaranteed to be tagged as the “geo-geek” of the family (an honor, IMO (in my opinion)), but you might just save the day when you’re all looking for that hidden trailhead.

Nutrient Management Planning

Article by Richard Meinert

Photo: Rich Meinert

In the simplest form a Nutrient Management Plan is an inventory of the nutrients produced on the farm or needed by crops that are, or will be, produced, and a list of planned applications needed to distribute those nutrients to individual crop fields to support the growth of the desired crop, for all fields on the farm. Historically these plans were pretty simple. A farm would apply manure by spreading it on the fields until they ran out, then they would apply fertilizer where they thought they would need it with little regard for how an individual application would affect the field, the crop or the environment. Today fertilizer is too expensive to waste and excess nutrients in a field are more likely to run off to contaminate ground or surface water. The goal of the Extension Nutrient Management Planning Program is to help famers target their nutrients to the portions of the fields that need them.

The key to accomplish this is knowing what is there already. Remote sensing technology is the tool that can provide that information to farmers for each individual field at a cost they can afford. UConn Extension’s Nutrient Management Planning team is using this technology (aircraft mounted camera-like sensors) to help farmers use manure and fertilizer more effectively. Eleven farms across Connecticut are cooperating in this project to show farmers how remotely sensed imagery could be used to guide future manure and fertilizer applications. Farms agreed to allow UConn faculty access to 35 fields to take soil and crop samples and to allow their fields to be photographed during the growing season. Farms receive copies of all of the sample results during the growing season to make management decisions. During the winter farms come together as a group to see the imagery, discuss the results for their fields and to plan the next year’s manure and/or fertilizer applications using the analysis results and imagery to guide their decisions.

The photo above is an example of the aerial imagery used in this process, in this case an NDVI image. NDVI stands for Normalized Difference Vegetative Index. NDVI was originally developed to determine land cover differences in vegetation from space. However by bringing the sensors closer to earth and targeting individual crop fields the technology can pinpoint areas in the field that are stressed and likely to yield less crop. NDVI basically calculates a ratio of the amount of light reflected in various wavelengths. This ratio number is the mathematical value of the “greenness” of the plant. Darker green color is indicative of healthier plants. This ratio is calculated for each pixel present in the images, as shown by the enlarged section of the photo. Each pixel or square visible in the enlarged section represents a 50 X 50 cm (19.6 X 19.6 inch) potion of the field surface. The resulting values are then color coded into ranges so the well fertilized healthy vegetation in the field appears as dark green, the less well fertilized or less healthy regions vary from light green through yellow and the worst vegetation in the field shows as orange. Areas with little or no vegetation appear red. This color-coding makes it easy for the farmer to understand where the best areas of the field are located.

Capturing the imagery and calculating the NDVI is the easy part. Commercial companies provide imagery for millions of acres of farmland across North America each year. The challenging part of this project is answering the question, “So now what?” This is where Extension is focusing its attention. There are 4 labelled locations in the field image. These are the points in the field chosen by Extension faculty to represent the poor, better and best regions in the field. Using hand held GPS devices faculty and students visit each location and mark out a 5 X 10 foot region for detailed sampling and data collection. Plant population is counted, soil samples are taken, and plants are harvested, weighed, ground and analyzed for dry matter and nutrient content.

When all of the laboratory work, and other data is collected and collated we calculate the overall yield information for the various colored regions in each field. Since we have data on the yield and the soil we can make recommendations that give farmers a more accurate estimate of the nutrients that should be applied to the various regions of the field. Having identified areas of the field that don’t need fertilizer as well as those areas that may need more nutrients the farmer can better target the areas that need additional fertilizer and save on areas that need less. Some farms use the information to maximize production per acre so they can farm fewer acres. The point is that having accurate information allows each farm to manage the field in a way that best fits their need without guessing and without over applying nutrients and having them be lost and possibly cause pollution.

Currently this program is effective, but not affordable without grant funds from off-farm sources. There is insufficient demand from farmers in New England, so the cost for imagery is too high for an individual farm to justify. The grant project is paying to obtain the imagery, and introduce the technology to the farms. UConn Extension’s work allows us to understand the various costs and obstacles involved in adapting this process to New England farms, which tend to be much smaller and more widely scattered than Midwest farms. The team has purchased a drone and is working on programming hardware and training a pilot to fly the drone and turn photos into usable images. There is a significant amount of computer processing of imagery needed to create a field map usable for nutrient applications. This will be a large portion of the effort of the team for the 2017 crop season.

Gypsy Moth Update

gypsy moths on tree
Photo: Tom Worthley

Gypsy Moth Update from Extension Educator Tom Worthley: “On Friday, I observed these live adult female gypsy moths laying eggs along Chaffeeville Road in Mansfield. Obviously some caterpillars managed to survive the fungus and other predators and develop to maturity in some spots. If people are so inclined they could kill moths they can reach, (squirting the moths and egg masses with a bit of canola oil or very soapy water would work) but I’m inclined to think that a few adult gypsy moths are the exception rather than the rule.”

Preparing Agricultural Leaders for Drought

Article by Kim Colavito Markesich

Originally published by Naturally.UConn.edu

 

water meter install
Water meter installation. Photo: Angie Harris

While Connecticut residents live in a state with ample water resources, we are beginning to notice some changes in precipitation trends.

“Connecticut is very fortunate as we’re actually quite water rich,” says Angie Harris, research assistant in UConn Extension. “We are getting rainfall, but there’s a shift in what we are beginning to experience, and what scientists expect to continue, which is more intense rain events less frequently. This type of rainfall can lead to drought conditions for agricultural producers.”

In 2015, Connecticut requested over $8 million dollars in federal emergency loans to be made available for crop losses due to moderate drought conditions across the state.

Mike O’Neill, associate dean and associate director of UConn Extension, and Harris are working on a two-year water conservation project funded through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Funding is provided through a $400,000 NRCS grant matched one to one by the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.

The UConn team is partnering with NRCS to promote conservation assistance to agricultural producers. The project goal focuses on agricultural water security by helping farmers prepare for drought, improve their irrigation efficiency and establish water conservation practices.

“In the past, NRCS did everything themselves,” O’Neill explains. “But now they are outsourcing some of that work because they realize we have partnerships in the community that can be effective in helping people implement agricultural conservation practices. I think this is a very innovative act on the part of the NRCS.”

Twelve pilot sites across the state have been identified to include a variety of agricultural operations including greenhouses, nurseries, vegetable growers and dairy and livestock farms.

“We’re really trying to target new and beginning agricultural operations because we feel they run the greatest risk of failure as a result of drought,” O’Neill says. “We look at what these operations can do in advance to make them more secure when a drought hits. If you can prepare farmers in advance, then when drought occurs, they’re not dealing with mitigation or lost crops, they will be able to weather the drought and be successful.”

The first step in the project involved review of the operations, followed by a site visit. Then the team installed a water meter at each site. The meter information is easily managed by farmers through an innovative text messaging data collection method developed by Nicholas Hanna, computer programmer with the College’s Office of Communications. The program allows operators to check their meter reading once weekly, quickly send the results via text messaging and receive a confirmation of their submission.

The readings are entered into a database associated with their number and farm name. By season’s end, the team will chart water usage tied to climate variables such as precipitation and wind, and will then review current watering practices and help owners develop strategies that manage water usage and prepare for drought conditions.

The NRCS will also use this data to help farmers access water saving strategies and equipment.

“In the end, we will be directing them to NRCS for financial assistance to implement conservation practices,” says Harris. The NRCS financial assistance programs are designed to help agricultural producers maintain and improve their water program in areas such as soil management and irrigation efficiency.

Some seventy-five agricultural producers have expressed interest in the program thus far, with the number growing weekly. To join the program, farmers complete a water use survey available online. A member of the team will conduct a field site visit. “If farmers are interested in getting a meter, we want to hear from them,” says O’Neill.

“We have a really great team working on this project,” he says. The group includes Rosa Raudales, assistant professor and horticulture extension specialist in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture; Mike Dietz, extension educator in water resources, low impact development and storm water management; and Ben Campbell, former assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, currently an assistant professor and extension economist at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

In another aspect of the project, the team is partnering with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Office of Policy and Management to explore water needs for agriculture in Connecticut. This understanding could inform policy decisions for future agricultural development within the state.

“This is a teachable moment for us,” O’Neill says. “We feel like these agricultural producers are scientists. We have an opportunity to help farmers conserve water, increase profitability and preserve the environment. They treat their business as a science, and we are trying to work with them to help them enhance their science capabilities and make better choices.”