Excess fertilizer use and inefficient nutrient management strategies often are causes of water quality impairment in the United States. When excess nitrogen enters large water bodies it enhances algae growth and when that algae decomposes, hypoxic conditions—often called a “dead zone” occur.
Nutrients carried to the Long Island Sound have been linked to the seasonal hypoxic conditions in the Sound. There are many different sources of nutrients within the Long Island Sound Watershed, an area encompassing parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. These sources include municipalities, industry, agriculture, forests, residential lawns and septic systems.
The Long Island Sound Watershed Regional Conservation Partnership Program (LISW-RCPP) is a technical and financial assistance program that enables agricultural producers and forest landowners to install and maintain conservation practices. The goal of this program is to enhance natural resources and improve water quality. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the LISW-RCPP supports efforts that find common ground among agricultural producers and conservation organizations in working towards the sustainable use of soil, water, and other natural resources.
Conservation practices can achieve multiple positive environmental outcomes, including water quality improvement. A wide variety of practices exist including in-field (cover crops, reduced tillage, diversified rotation and nutrient management), and edge-of-field strategies (grassed water ways, buffer strips, riparian area, bioreactors and wetlands). These changes, in turn improves nitrogen retention during vulnerable leaching periods in the spring and fall. Conservation strategies also function to safeguard other ecosystem roles, such as carbon sequestration, animal refuge habitat, fisheries and recreation.
Prioritizing areas for nutrient management strategies requires an understanding of the spatial relationships between land use and impaired surface waterbodies. Our project utilizes a geographic information systems (GIS) based approach to under- stand and act upon these important spatial relationships. In part, we are identifying contemporary and historical hotspots of agricultural land use by using satellite- derived land use land cover (LULC) classifications initially developed by
the University of Connecticut’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR). Spatial analyses depicting the proximity of agriculture to highly valued water resources (both surface and ground- water) serves as the foundational work that informs where efforts to protect and restore water quality will be most impactful to the greater Long Island Sound Watershed.
Our future work will pair spatial maps with modeled contemporary and historical nutrient loading patterns to expand regions of interest. Our goal is to provide education and tools that help farmers realize the benefits of sustainable agriculture with individual conservation plans tailored to their specific needs and objectives. Connecticut’s environment of diverse crops and farms offers unique opportunities and challenges. UConn Extension is offering soil tests and interpretations to assess each farm’s nutrient needs. We look forward to co-creating knowledge with farmers and developing soil health solutions for long-term production goals and resilient farms.
Article by Katherine Van Der Woude and Kevin Jackson
Private wells provide water to 820,000 people in Connecticut, approximately 23% of the population’s water supply comes from private wells according to the Connecticut Department of Public Health. These wells are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, although Local Health Departments do have the authority over the proper siting and construction of private wells. It is the responsibility of the well owners to test the quality of the water—it is recommended that you perform a Basic Indicators Test once a year. Additionally, if you notice a difference in taste, color, odor, or clarity contact your Local Health Department for assistance. Well water testing can be done for bacteriological elements, trace metals and minerals, pesticides and herbicides, and organic and inorganic chemicals. Click here to read about what elements you should test for and how frequently.
After your water is tested you should document the date of the test and the results. The EPA has established standards for maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) and the CT DPH has set action levels for certain contaminants. Should your results come back high you should retest the water to verify the results, stop drinking the water until the issue is resolved, and contact your Local Health Department for advice moving forward.
You can get your well water tested at state certified testing facilities. Procedures vary depending on the facility that is being used. Some facilities will send a technician to the location to take a sample and bring it back to the lab for testing. Other facilities allow for the homeowner to collect a sample. It is important to follow their instructions to ensure the proper collection practices and prevent contamination. Proper maintenance and operation of your well water system is important for protecting the water quality. Check out this best management practice checklist for private well owners.
Originally published by the Eastern Highlands Health District
Another winter has finally ended, and messy roads and salty cars are quickly becoming a distant memory. Where did all that salt go? The millions of tons of deicing salts that get applied to our roads either wash off into local streams, or move into the local groundwater. Yet another research study has recently come out documenting the harmful effects this salt is having in the environment (see UConn Today article). Salt impacts aquatic life in streams, vegetation, and drinking water wells, creating a human health concern. Unfortunately there is no good cost-effective alternative available at this point.
Faced with this situation, New Hampshire decided to attack this problem at the source: reduce how much salt is being applied to the landscape. The Green SnowPro certification program provides municipal public works staff and private contractors with training on how to more efficiently apply deicing salts while still keeping the roads safe for travel. Information is provided on how salt actually works, what the impacts are on the environment, how to calibrate equipment, how much salt to apply given the weather conditions, and how to use anti-icing strategies. Another benefit of the program is that businesses who hire certified applicators receive reduced liability from damages arising from snow and ice conditions, creating an incentive for businesses to hire trained contractors. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has reported that the program is helping to reduce salt application across the state.
Given the recent success of the program in New Hampshire, the program is being adapted here in Connecticut. UConn’s Tech Transfer Center has partnered with CT DOT, DEEP, and UConn CLEAR to pilot the program for municipal public works staff. The pilot session will be later this summer- check the T2 website for details. The goal is to expand the program to private contractors, just as New Hampshire has done.
Although our salt problem will not be fixed overnight, programs like this offer the best hope to tackle this very serious problem.
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).
On my drive home last week I saw two of my neighbors walking their dogs. One of the dogs had just done his business and the owner dutifully scooped it up with a doggy doodie bag dangling from the dog’s leash. Excellent, I thought, he knows that dog poop left on the street can be carried by stormwater into our storm drain and then pollute our waterways with bacteria. As a water quality educator, I was pleased to see the “scoop the poop” message was getting out.
However, my neighbor then proceeded to drop the doodie bag directly into the storm drain! So, there is still work to do. Once you scoop it, you need dispose of it properly – either in the garbage or flushed down the toilet (minus the plastic bag). Not carry it directly to the storm drain.
This has gotten me to think more about how we educate the public about the impacts of common everyday activities on our lakes, streams and rivers. Under our new state stormwater management regulations (a.k.a, the MS4 permit) towns are required to educate their citizens on the impacts things like pet waste and fertilizer have on our waters when transported to our storm drain system. However, if towns are going to invest/spend their limited time and resources on public outreach, it makes sense that they ensure they are as effective as possible at conveying the whole message, while also keeping it simple.
Chloride use in winter deicing has been steadily increasing. Transportation and public works directors have a responsibility for keeping motorists safe. However, salt use has lasting impacts on our ecosystems and water supplies. This conference will bring together researchers and public works professionals, municipal officials, consulting engineers, ecologists and water researchers. The aims of the conference are to hear from transportation officials on deicing approaches, and to examine chloride in Connecticut’s waters and the resulting effect on aquatic life. Expert panelists will provide discussion on trying to balance safety and environmental concerns.
Cost is $45 per person with discounts offered for students. For more information contact: Dr. Michael Dietz at 860-345-5225 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Every 5.5 years or so (don’t ask!) CLEAR issues a Progress Report in an attempt to summarize and characterize highlights of our work. Our second such report is now out!
CLEAR is smaller than it once was—there are about 8 full-time faculty and staff working on Center projects on a daily basis—but our small size has not prevented us from engaging in a long list of projects with an even longer list of partners. Nor have we slacked off on producing websites, web tools, publications, and now smartphone apps.
The body of the Report is given to short descriptions of key impacts made by our research, geospatial training and tools, and outreach education programs. Highlighted examples include the widespread use of our Changing Landscape land cover information, the use of the CT ECO web mapping site during Tropical Storm Irene, CT NEMO’s work on a national precedent setting water quality project on campus, and the statewide impact of the Land Use Academy, which has trained over 900 people from 149 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.
UConn Extension’s Center for Land Use Education And Research (CLEAR) provides information, education and assistance to Connecticut’s land use decision makers, community organizations and citizens on how to better protect natural resources while accommodating economic growth.
Read Michael Dietz’s blog post about road salt at the CLEAR website.