environment

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

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.

Online Course Catalog of Extension Programs

course catalog imageThere are more than one hundred UConn Extension specialists working throughout Connecticut. These educators are teaching and training in local communities, sharing their experience and knowledge with residents through a variety of programs. These instructional activities now will be easily accessible with the creation of an online extension course catalog.

Extension classes address a wide range of topics, including issues related to agriculture and food systems, the green industry, families and community development, land use and water, nutrition and wellness as well as numerous 4-H and youth activities. The website uses these groupings and an A to Z index so finding offerings is simple and straightforward. Each program links to a page with information on the objectives, goals, components, intended audience, the time of year and how often programs run and a link to the program’s website, that provides additional information.

As part of a nationwide network through the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, Extension professionals and trained volunteers engage the state’s diverse population to make informed choices and better decisions. The partnerships enrich our lives and our environment.

View the course catalog online at http://s.uconn.edu/courses.

New Website Launched to Help Coastal Property Owners and Beach Associations

scarping

GROTON, CT—Connecticut Sea Grant announces a new website intended to assist coastal Connecticut beach property owners and beach associations with hazards such as impacts from storms and associated erosion and flooding.  The new site helps users evaluate threats and prepare to protect property from further damage.   A variety of actions, depending on the scale of damage and cost, are provided, including options such as dune restoration, repairing seawalls, moving landward or elevating structures. The new site is accessible at http://beachduneguide.uconn.edu

“We hope this website will be a valuable resource for both coastal property owners and managers in helping to protect infrastructure as well as the natural environment” said Dr. Juliana Barrett, one of the site’s creators. Barrett is an associate coastal habitat educator with Connecticut Sea Grant and UConn Extension.

Connecticut Sea Grant is a partnership between the University of Connecticut and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA), based at the UConn Avery Point campus.

CT Envirothon

Several UConn Extension educators worked at the Envirothon Event on May 21st. It’s a great event and well worth all the effort that goes into it. UConn Extension’s Donna Ellis made a presentation at the teacher’s workshop (as the technical expert) during the event on invasive species which is next year’s current issue challenge. This year’s current issue was urban forestry and Chris Donnelly was the technical expert.

giant hogweed

When It Comes To Climate Change – Money Talks

damaged houses

By Bruce Hyde

It is generally accepted by climate scientists that New England will experience a trend of increasing intensity and frequency of storms resulting in an increase in flooding and coastal erosion. Recent storms have raised our collective awareness of the damage, both fiscal and physical, that these storms can cause. Consider that Sandy wasn’t even a hurricane when it hit Connecticut; it was a mere tropical storm. Yet federal funding for Sandy relief in Connecticut amounted to over $360 million. If you include New York and New Jersey, Congress approved over $60 billion in emergency disaster aid for Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy. That amounts to approximately $382 for every taxpayer (157 million taxpayers) in the country. If these types of storms become more frequent, it raises the question: Just how are we going to pay for it? Read more….

Do “We” Believe in Climate Change

By David Dickson

IMG_0660

Over the last year and a half here in Connecticut, we have certainly seen our fair share of extreme weather events – Irene, the Halloween nor’easter of 2011, Sandy, Winter Storm NEMO (no relation to our NEMO), etc. These events have certainly had a big physical and financial impact on our state, but may have also had a broader emotional/political impact.  There is a growing sense that events like these are shifting our national attitudes about climate change. But are they?

I had the pleasure of attending a Climate Change workshop in Santa Monica, CA last week sponsored by the NOAA Sea Grant Climate Change Network. I was there to talk about our awesome Rain Garden App, but left with some interesting insight into what we as a nation think about climate change/global warming.

Read more…

New Rain Garden Smartphone App Helps Protect Water Quality

By:  Sheila Foran, UConn Today & David Dickson, UConn Extension

The Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR), a partnership between Extension and  NRE in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and CT Sea Grant, has developed the Rain Garden smart phone app in Apple’s iTunes store. It is the University’s first mobile app geared toward the public.  Landscapers, contractors, and homeowners can use the app to design, install, and maintain rain gardens.

raingarden app

A rain garden is a depression (about 6 inches deep) that collects storm water runoff from a roof, driveway, or yard and allows it to infiltrate into the ground. Rain gardens are typically planted with shrubs and perennials and can add colorful, landscaped areas to yards and office or school complexes. In addition to being attractive, they benefit the environment by preventing erosion, filtering runoff pollution, removing standing water, and creating a habitat for birds and butterflies.

David Dickson, Assistant Co-op Extension Educator in Residence in the Department of Extension, says, “I started thinking that the contractors and landscapers we [CLEAR] work with probably have smart phones with them at all times … their trucks and their phones are what they use for an office … and I thought it would be great if they had a reference right there to help them with planning and laying out the gardens.”

smartphone

Dickson talked it over with Mike Dietz, Assistant Co-op Extension Educator in Residence, and Chet Arnold, Cooperative Extension Educator, both in the Department of Extension, and the idea began to take shape.

While many extension programs around the country, including UConn, have focused on training landscapers and others on proper rain garden design and installation, this training often involves classroom instruction and guidebooks or printed presentation material. UConn’s utilization of a mobile app is revolutionary. Mike O’Neill, Associate Dean for Extension and Outreach in CANR says, “The folks at CLEAR are not just being innovative locally. This app has national implications. In the future, this is how knowledge will be delivered.”

While Dickson, Dietz, and Arnold knew that they wanted to include everything from basic information about rain gardens to tips on picking a site, suggestions for native plants, and soil drainage maps, they didn’t have the background to actually design the app.

That’s how Ph.D. student Alberto De La Rosa Algarin came into the picture. Algarin, who is studying information security in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, was approached by his advisor, Professor Steve Demurjian. When asked if he’d like to collaborate with a couple of master’s level students in the design of the app, Algarin was quick to say yes. “I thought it would be a good problem-solving exercise,” he says. ”Even though it wasn’t directly tied to my research, I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn something new.”

“I didn’t know anything about rain gardens until I started working on the app with Mike and David; it’s amazing they [rain gardens] are everywhere.  I had seen the garden on the roof of the classroom building [The Rowe Center for Undergraduate Education] but I hadn’t realized its importance.”

In its final phase, the app includes sections on how to actually install a garden, plant selection guidelines focusing on native plants, drainage charts, and information on how to pick a site and size of garden. This information is available right down to the location of individual addresses, making planning specific to a plot of land, not just a general area.

Landscapers will find the app particularly useful because the ‘My Rain Garden’ section actually allows users to design and organize multiple gardens.  On an individual basis, homeowners can search for plants that will particularly enhance their landscapes, as well as providing individual notifications to remind them about watering and plant care.

An added benefit to CLEAR is that when users export key information about their gardens to the Department of Extension, the staff will be able  to quantify storm water volume treated by the gardens in the state, as well estimate pollutant load reductions.

The app is now available through Apple’s iTunes App Store as “Rain Garden.” In its first two weeks of release it had already been downloaded 682 times. The team is now working on a version for Android devices and hopes to have it available in the next few months and hopes to release a national version of the app soon – it currently is focused primarily on Southern New England.

In the words of O’Neill, “These guys [from CLEAR] are creating a whole new path for how Cooperative Extension is going to look in the 21st century; that’s what’s so cool about this app. Everyone with an interest in rain gardens benefits and it sets the stage for the future.”