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.


NOAA Website Uses CLEAR Technologies

The NOAA Office for Coastal Management has come out with a new web-mapping site, How to Use Land Cover Data as A Water Quality Indicatorthat was constructed based on a project that UConn Extension’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) did for them in 2013. It uses metrics and analyses recommended by CLEAR, and in some cases developed by CLEAR, as with the Riparian Corridors analysis done by Emily Wilson. As with all OCM sites it covers the entire coastal portion of the lower 48 states. The CLEAR partnership with OCM dates back to the late 1990’s. You can visit the site here:

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The photos above are screen shots of the home page, and the other of a portion of the South Carolina coast (randomly chosen) showing the riparian analysis.