UConn CLEAR

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!

Connecticut Statewide Impervious Surface Map Layers

By Emily Wilson

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

impervious surface map layer in ESRIWith funding from CT DEEP, CLEAR has acquired and made available on CT ECO a new statewide, high-resolution, impervious cover data layer. While acquired to support new stormwater regulations, the layer can be used for other purposes as well.

What is it?

Statewide, 1 foot resolution raster (pixel) data where each pixel is one of three classes (buildings, roads and other impervious).

Why do we have it?

The 2017 Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit regulation requires certain towns and institutions to calculate directly connected impervious area. To assist communities in meeting this requirement, CT DEEP funded the acquisition of the a statewide impervious layer (based on 2012 imagery) that may be useful in calculating directly connected impervious area and tracking disconnects of impervious cover.

How was it created?

A company called Quantum Spatial did the work.  They used 2012 statewide aerial imagery which has 1 foot pixels and classified it which means identifying all pixels in the imagery that represent buildings, roads and other impervious.  The rest of the pixels were excluded as they were not impervious land cover. In some places, towns and/or regional governments contributed detailed GIS data that was incorporated into the layer.

How do you get it?

The CT ECO website has a whole section devoted to the Connecticut MS4 Supporting Layers which includes the impervious surface data.

View. Take a quick peak at the layer. Or view it in context in the CT MS4 Viewer (look for Statewide Impervious Cover (2012) down a ways on the Layer List).

Connect. GIS users can connect to the map services of impervious surface. Three flavors are available.

The original raster data is available as map services in two different projections. One is in Web Mercator Auxiliary Sphere (service called Impervious_2012) which is best for online mapping and web viewers.  The other is in Connecticut State Plane NAD83 Feet which is better for desktop GIS mapping when other layers are also in the Connecticut State Plane coordinate system (service called Impervious_2012_StatePlane).  The smoothed vector version (see formats section below) is also a map service in Connecticut State Plane NAD83 feet (service called Impervious2012_simplified_vector_StatePlane).

Download. GIS users can download the files.  Formats available described below.

What are the different formats?

The impervious surface data is available in several different flavors that all originated from the same base.

Raster.  The raster format is the original. Download by town (extended area*).

Vector Original. The vector format was created by taking the raster layer and converting it to polygons instead of pixels.  Polygons have area. Here, the polygon edges are still jagged because they originated from pixels. The outlines are shown as an example. Download by town in a geodatabase contain a clip of just the town boundary and one of the town extended area*.

Vector Smoothed. Through a fortunate turn of events, there is also a smoothed version of the vector. Here, the jagged vectors have been smoothed through geoprocessing methods. Download statewide layers for buildings, roads and other impervious.  Each is in a separate file.

* Extended area refers to a rectangular area larger than the town (detailed explanation here).

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.

Adding Programs to Conservation Academy

UConn’s Natural Resources Conservation Academy Adds Two New Education Programs in 2017

nrca students in waterFounded in 2011, the Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA) is designed to provide high school students with a structured informal learning experience focused on the environment, natural resources and geospatial technologies. In case you haven’t heard about it yet, let me get you caught up. The NRCA is all about making connections. Connecting young adults to the environment around them, to professionals in the field of natural resource science, to their communities and local conservation programs, to the University and a potential career in a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) discipline, and of course, to each other. These connections begin to form for students as they are immersed in a week-long field experience on the UConn campus, and continue to develop as students go on to complete conservation projects in their communities. The success of the NRCA can be measured by the smiling faces of the students (over 100 of them so far!) who return to campus each spring to present the results of their ten-month, conservation based service learning project to scientists and professionals at the Connecticut Conference on Natural Resources. It can also be measured by the dedication of a small group of faculty members within the College’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) and Department of Extension who come back each year to participate as educators and mentors in the program. These folks have worked tirelessly to grow the program from a big idea into a big success. That includes several of us here at CLEAR.

The success of the NRCA can now also be measured in dollars. As in, over $3 million of them
– grant dollars awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for two new research projects that will extend the reach of the NRCA’s conservation science and technology programs into even more schools and communities across Connecticut. The NRCA “Education Triad” as it is affectionately called in the hallways at CLEAR, consists of three programs: The Conservation Ambassador Program (CAP) – the original NRCA – for teens; the Conservation Training Partnerships (CTP) for teens and adult learners; and Teacher Professional Learning (TPL) for middle and high school teachers. The two new projects, the CTP and TPL, are interdisciplinary partnerships across the university and in addition to original NRCA collaborations, now include faculty from Neag School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction (EDCI) and the Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering (CESE).

Read more….

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.

Low Impact Development in Connecticut

green roof at UConnConnecticut towns are increasingly recognizing the impact of stormwater runoff on water quality. Low impact development (LID), also called green stormwater infrastructure, is a major strategy to address these issues. The Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) program at the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) has been working with towns on these issues since 1991. With NEMO’s 25th anniversary looming and a major revision of Connecticut’s stormwater regulations in the process of being finalized, NEMO, with the help of a UConn Extension intern, recently completed a 9-month study on the status of LID adoption in towns across the state.

LID is a broad strategy involving a number of stormwater practices designed to infiltrate runoff back into the ground, reducing flooding, erosion, and water pollution problems. These strategies include permeable pavements, green roofs, bio retention areas, and other practices designed to reduce impervious cover. Some towns have updated their regulations to allow for or even require the use of these practices where feasible. Others however have lagged behind and actually have regulations that discourage or prohibit developers, often inadvertently, from pursuing them. NEMO’s study sought to get a better handle on the progress made on this front.

The NEMO study had two phases. In Phase One, NEMO research assistant Manon LeFevre conducted exhaustive (and exhausting) internet research on the land use plans and regulations of 85 of CT’s 169 towns (the number of towns was dictated by available resources and is not a scientifically random sample). Towns were “scored” for the number of LID strategies that appeared in these documents, based on the 14 specific practices suggested in the 2009 NEMO guide Developing a Sustainable Community. A guide to Help Connecticut Communities Craft Plans and Regulations that Protect Water Quality.

In Phase Two, follow-up phone interviews were conducted for the vast majority (78) of these towns by Low Impact Development in Connecticut Manon and Kerrin Kinnear, an Extension Intern in the UConn Environmental Studies program. Kerrin and Manon doggedly pursued town planners and other municipal staff to ascertain the reasons why their town did or did not pursue LID, the greatest barriers they face related to this type of development, and if they had any recommendations for us.

As NEMO educators have long thought, the greatest driver of LID regulations at the local level are local champions—either staff or land use commissioners. Thus efforts to educate and empower those audiences are still the most effective way of making LID commonplace (table, lower left).

On the barriers side, cost and lack of educational opportunities about LID were the top vote getters (table, lower right). However, many of the barriers can also be viewed as education issues. The cost category also encompasses perceptions that LID is more expensive, although that is not always the case and education about the true costs could help that. Reluctant town staff were also among the top vote getters for barriers, but education directed at those audiences may also help allay some of their concerns. Finally, long-term maintenance was often cited as an area of concern and more could be done through education and assistance to help address that.

In sum, the results of the NEMO LID study provide some useful information to help guide the future municipal assistance efforts of CLEAR, CT DEEP, and others. Most towns in Connecticut seem to have at least some language related to low impact development (LID) in their plans and regulations, largely due to the work of dedicated local proponents. However, not all of this this leads to regulations outlining specific LID practices, and additional resources are needed, with incentive funding and education leading the list of needs. This project was partially funded by UConn Extension and CT DEEP.

Telling Stories With Maps

screen shot of story mapMost people like to look at maps. How many times have you looked at a map just to figure out where you’re going, and then become distracted by towns, rivers and mountains off to the side? And in this day and age, maps—including satellite imagery—are all around us, on our phones and in our cars. This past year, Extension faculty at UConn’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) have concentrated on using maps in a new way—and done so well that they’ve won an international award for their efforts.

CLEAR’s Extension faculty has long used maps to educate land use decision makers and the public about Connecticut’s landscape and natural resources. The foundational research and Extension project of CLEAR is called Connecticut’s Changing Landscape (CCL), which uses remotely sensed imagery to measure changes to our landscape over time. Currently, the project covers the 25-year period from 1985 to 2010 (a 2015 update is underway). The landscape is characterized into land cover classes, which denote what the satellite imagery actually sees on the ground; for instance, development, turf, agricultural field, and forest.

The CCL website created by Extension faculty has graphs and data tables, but most of the website is devoted to maps, making them easily accessible and available for the user in a number of formats, from the static to the highly interactive. Recently, though, new technology has upped the ante on the term “highly interactive.” Mapping technology industry leader Esri Corporation has created a web format called “Story Maps.” Story Maps allow the developer to combine interactive map windows with explanatory text, photos, videos, and just about any other type of information that can be put on the web. This has proved ideal for many CLEAR projects, especially CCL. The project’s complex combinations of land cover categories, time intervals, derivatives and different scales (from statewide to town to watershed to local) can be confusing, and a Story Map format allows the creators to, quite literally, tell the story of in what way, how much, and where our landscape is changing. For instance, the figure shows a screen capture from the “Turf and Grass” page of the Story Map, showing the map on the left and text and graphics on the right. The map is “live” and interactive and the user can pan, zoom, and click on various features for more information.

Story Maps are a new and constantly evolving format. In 2015, Esri held an international storytelling with maps contest. Emily Wilson, a Geospatial Technology Extension Educator, decided that the CCL Story Map, called Tracking Land Cover Change in Connecticut, was worthy of an entry due to its unique analysis and display of complex CCL data. Helping her to plan the story, including the component videos, photos and graphics, was Extension Water Quality Educator Chet Arnold, who also serves as CLEAR’s Director of Outreach.

The result: Connecticut’s Changing Landscape Story Map was named the Best Science/Technology/Education Story Map in the 2015 Esri Storytelling with Maps contest—one of only four first place winners from over 400 entries from around the globe. The story map was featured at the Esri User Conference, held each year in San Diego, CA and attracting over 16,000 attendees. Emily presented in two sessions, conducted an on-camera interview and received the award directly from Esri President and Founder Jack Dangermond (photo, page 6).

Since its inception in 2004, the Changing Landscape project has become a valuable resource for the planning and natural resource management sectors of Connecticut, used in a wide variety of ways by academia, state and local government, and nonprofit organizations. With the addition of the Story Map, which has had thousands of individual viewers in just the past 8 months since it was posted, Extension hopes to bring the story of Connecticut’s Changing Landscape to an even broader audience.

First Place in Storytelling with Maps

screen shot of story mapLast week at the Esri International User Conference in San Diego, UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research‘s Emily Wilson and Chet Arnold received the First Place Award in the Science/Technology/Education category of the Esri Storytelling with Maps Contest. There were over 400 submissions to the contest and only 5 first place winners. Over 16,000 GIS professionals from around the world attended the conference. As a result of the award, Emily was asked to present in two sessions with audiences of about 500 and 300 people, respectively.

A story map is a simple yet powerful way to engage an audience that combines interactive maps, data, text, graphics and images. Story Maps have become a major focus of Esri, the industry leader in GIS technology. Our story map, called Connecticut’s Changing Landscape, highlights information from the 25 year land cover series produced at CLEAR. See the winning story map at the link: http://s.uconn.edu/ctstory

Living Shoreline Workshop

living shoreline meeting

Connecticut Sea Grant and Extension’s CLEAR hosted the second Living Shoreline Workshop in June as part of the Climate Adaptation Academy. This workshop brought over 100 participants together to hear experts from Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan and other states including Connecticut talk about different aspects of living shorelines including on the ground examples and what has and hasn’t worked.