water quality

Is there any hope to fix our salt problem? Perhaps…

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.

By Mike Dietz

Originally posted on CLEAR.UConn.edu

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!

What Do You Do After You Scoop?

By David Dickson

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

cartoon of lady and dog scooping poop and not placing it in stormwater drain
Image courtesy of Rhode Island Stormwater Solutions

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.

CLEAR’s NEMO program is helping communities to identify ways to get these messages out. Our online MS4 Guide has examples of public outreach materials towns can use, but there are other resources as well. URI’s Stormwater Solutions program has some great public outreach materials on scooping and trashing pet waste, including cartoons like the one above. The EPA has a nice stormwater outreach”toolbox” with examples from around the country searchable by topic or media type.

Still, many of these focusing on the scooping, which at least in my neighborhood (and I’m guessing in yours) is only half the battle. So choose carefully.

Maybe someone will come up with a cute phrase that tells people what to do AFTER they scoop. “Scoop the poop and then place it in the proper receptacle” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

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:

 Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 9.54.27 AM Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 9.55.55 AM

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.

Road Salt Use in Connecticut: Balancing Safety & Water Quality

155This conference is being organized by the NEMO Program, an outreach program of the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research.
 
Additional support provided by the Connecticut Institute for Water Resources
 
Friday March 28, 2014
8:30 am – 3:00 pm
UConn Student Union
  
  
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 michael.dietz@uconn.edu

New CLEAR Progress Report Now Available

By Chet Arnold

CLEAR report

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.

The report can be found online at http://clear.uconn.edu/publications/CLEARreport2012.pdf. Contact Kara Bonsack for hardcopies at kara.bonsack@uconn.edu.

Salt of the Earth

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.

One of UConn’s salt piles.

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.”