MS4

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

Major New CLEAR Programs Underway in 2017

By Chet Arnold

Originally posted on http://blog.clear.uconn.edu

As 2017 gets underway, CLEAR folks are working hard on the early stages of major new projects that cover all three of CLEAR’s traditional program areas, and actually add a fourth! Each one of these projects will no doubt be the fodder for many blogs to come, but for now, here’s a quick summary of new CLEAR initiatives.

The Water Team is a few months into a five-year effort to support the 121 towns covered under the newly enhanced “MS4” state stormwater regulation. MS4 is a part of the Clean Water Act and stands for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System. Although only 8 of the 121 towns are entirely new to this regulation, there are important new additions to the requirements and our new program is focused on helping towns navigate these changes. Stormwater management has been a major focus of CLEAR since before there was a CLEAR, dating back to the advent of the NEMO Program in 1991, so we are very excited to have the chance to tackle this issue in new and expanded ways.

The Geospatial Team is working hard on a redesign and expansion of Connecticut Conditions Online, or CT ECO, a partnership with CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection that is the state’s flagship/go-to/one-stop-shopping/cutting-edge online site for natural resource maps and data. First of all, the website is being upgraded with new hardware and software. Second, it’s getting a design facelift, not only to look pretty but also to be more mobile-friendly. Third, in early 2017 CT ECO will be adding new high resolution statewide imagery (3-inch pixel resolution!!!) and elevation (lidar) data, both obtained in the Spring of 2016 (project description here).   This amazing stuff is suitable for any number of tasks. Blogs will no doubt be flying off of Emily Wilson’s desk on these topics in future.

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.

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

The Land Use and Climate Adaptation Team is working on the launch of the new UConn Climate Corps, a program focused on undergraduates from the Environmental Sciences, Environmental Studies, and Environmental Engineering majors. In concert with the directors of those three majors, we are developing a fall semester class that will focus on local issues and problems associated with climate change; during the following spring semester “practicum,” student teams will work with CLEAR faculty to provide on-the-ground assistance to towns by conducting vulnerability assessments and other studies, developing educational materials, or performing any number of other tasks. We are hoping that this combination of classroom and service learning will become a model that can be adapted to other issues, and possibly other universities.

Lastly, CLEAR now has a fourth Program Area, secondary school STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. This is a very recent development built upon the Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA) run out of one of the Center’s parent departments, the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. The NRCA, now in its fifth year, is a program for high school students that combines on-campus natural resources education with community service projects, and CLEAR folks make up much of its teaching faculty. This past fall, a multi-departmental team from CAHNR and the Neag School of Education received two grants to expand the NRCA concept in several ways. The first project, funded by the National Science Foundation, will bring together high school students and adult conservation volunteers (from land trusts, conservation commissions, etc.) in two-day workshops focused on local natural resource management. The second will be a three-day teacher professional development class held on campus, focusing on water resource management and the use of online geospatial tools for teaching within the framework of the Next Generation Science Standards. CLEAR is the home of this new triad of interwoven projects. MUCH more later!

UConn CLEAR February Webinars

pervious pavementUConn CLEAR has announced their February webinars for the 7th and 14th. The first is
Getting Started on Your New MS4 Permit, and the second is Road Salt Use in Connecticut: Understanding the Consequences of the Quest for Dry Pavement.

Attendance is FREE!
Register online now, and invest just one hour of your time in the comfort of your own office or home.

NOTE: Once you are registered for a webinar, please try to join 5 minutes early to allow time for the webinar software to sign you in. All webinars start promptly at 2 PM EST (note the NRCA webinar starts at 3 PM).

On the go? You can now participate in CLEAR Webinars from the comfort of your iPhone, iPod, or iPad. Just download the FREE GoToWebinar App here. Please note: the GoToWebinar App does not currently allow you to send in questions during the webinar. To register or learn more about the webinars, please visit the CLEAR website.

NEMO Program to Help Communities Navigate the New Stormwater Permit

By Dave Dickson
tmdl mapCLEAR’s venerable, award-winning NEMO (Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials) Program is embarking on a five-year program to assist Connecticut communities in complying with the state’s revised “General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater from Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems,” or the MS4 permit. Stormwater runoff is a major source of flooding, erosion and water pollution in Connecticut’s waterways, and is expected to become even more of a problem as climate change progresses.
After much negotiation between CT DEEP, Connecticut municipalities and the environmental community, the MS4 underwent a significant expansion and enhancement this July. Eight new towns have been brought into the program, making a total of 121 (almost ¾ of all the municipalities in the state), and for the first time most state and federal institutions are also included. And, while the program remains organized according to its six “Minimum Control Measures,” there are important new aspects and requirements involving monitoring, maintenance of town properties, and “disconnecting” impervious areas through Low Impact Development (LID).
In the current economic environment Connecticut communities are struggling with a host of needs, and navigating the various aspects of the MS4 will be a challenge. In recognition of this, CT DEEP is funding NEMO to develop and implement a multifaceted support program that includes outreach, technical assistance, web tools and other resources. To list just a few:
  • MS4 “Circuit Rider”: a NEMO Extension Educator dedicated to the MS4 support program will conduct workshops, trainings and consultations with towns.
  • MS4 website: a website far above and beyond the typical regulation website is being developed, as an authoritative and detailed (but not wordy!) guide to MS4 implementation and home for special technical and mapping tools.
  • Webinar series: CLEAR’s webinar series will spin off a special NEMO/MS4 series highlighting different requirements of the regulation and approaches to meet them.
  • Mapping training: CLEAR’s Geospatial Training Program will provide training and tools to help communities meet the new mapping requirements of the permit.
  • Impervious Cover data: NEMO is working with an outside contractor to obtain high resolution impervious cover data, which will be an enormous asset to conducting the drainage area and impervious area analyses required in the permit.

The CLEAR Water Team (aka NEMO Team) is looking forward to this challenge, and in the process developing a whole new generation of stormwater outreach tools and resources. NEMO will be working with DEEP, regional Councils of Government, and both public and private sector organizations to tackle this issue so important to the health and welfare of the citizens of Connecticut.

Look for an announcement of the website soon. In the meantime you can view the CT DEEP MS4 Fact Sheet online (s.uconn.edu/ms4). Questions should be directed to Dave Dickson (david.dickson@uconn.edu) or Mike Dietz (michael.dietz@uconn.edu).