water

Water Testing in Connecticut

water being put into test tubes with a dropper in a water test situation

Water is part of everything that we do. We are frequently asked about water testing, septic system maintenance, and fertilizing lawns. The Connecticut Institute of Water Resources, a project with Natural Resources & the Environment, has resources for homeowners: http://ctiwr.uconn.edu/residential/

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Break Your Bad Water Habits

faucet with running water
Photo: Kara Bonsack

When it comes to household water use, the average American uses about 82 gallons of water per day. To cut back on your water use around the house, an easy first step starts with fixing any leaks. (They can drip away gallons a day—in extreme cases, up to 90 gallons/day!) Also, try to reduce your water usage in everyday tasks, such as turning off the tap while brushing your teeth, taking a shower instead of a bath, and watering your yard in the morning instead of the heat of the afternoon.  Finally, consider installingWaterSense’s water-efficient products (such as shower heads, toilets, and bathroom faucets) around your home to help your wallet and the environment.

Source: National Environmental Education Foundation

Staying Hydrated

woman and man drinking water from bottles
Photo: NEEF

With summer in full swing, how can you beat the heat, stay cool, and keep healthy when temperatures soar? Besides staying indoors in the air-conditioning and seeking shade when you’re outside, you need to stay hydrated. Why? Because dehydration can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. Signs of heat stroke include hot, red, dry, or damp skin; fast, strong pulse; headache; dizziness; nausea; and confusion.

Drinking water tops the list of how to stay healthy in the heat. Although water intake varies depending on several factors (including age, size, gender, health, activity level, and weather), as a general rule of thumb, aim to drink 8-10 cups of water every day.

Need help boosting your water intake? Follow these hydration tips:

Drink up—but watch what you drink.
Drink plenty of fluids but avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol, and high-sugar content as they might contribute to dehydration. Water should be your go-to drink because it’s calorie-free, low-cost, and readily available.

Take it with you.
Carry a reusable water bottle with you wherever you go—in the backyard, in the car, to work, to the gym, and running errands. Most public places (such as parks, malls, grocery stores, and office buildings) offer water fountains. Fill up your water bottle at stops throughout your day to ensure a cold drink of water is always at your fingertips.

Jazz up your H2O!
Tired of plain ol’ water? While you can purchase flavored water, you can save money and make your own. Try adding a slice of cucumber or a squeeze of lemon to your water. Or crush some raspberries in ice cube trays, fill with water, then freeze to add flavored cubes to your water glass. Like mojitos? Forget the alcohol but mix the other ingredients (lime juice, soda water, mint leaves, and just a sprinkle of sugar) for a refreshing twist.

Eat water-rich foods.
If the thought of consuming a half-gallon or more of water every day turns you off, think beyond the water glass. While you should drink plenty of water every day, you can also eat your way to hydration to supplement your water intake. (FYI: Only 20% of your water needs are met through food.) Choose high-water-content foods, such as peaches, grapes, oranges, melons, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, zucchini, spinach, and lettuce. Guess what else counts? Broth-based soups like chicken, beef, or vegetable broth. (Soups also provide a great way to get in a serving or two of vegetables.) You can even try a frozen fruit-juice popsicle! It all adds up over the course of a day.

Read more about extreme heat and your health and find additional water resources from the USDA.

Source: National Environmental Education Foundation

Conservation Planning

aerial view of Connecticut River and agricultural fieldsExcess 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 widemap imagery for conservation planning for farms 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

STEM Education for Teens, Adults, and Teachers

nrca students in waterThe Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA) is a group of three linked projects that focus on connecting STEM education for high school students with natural resource conservation at the local level. With over 130 land trusts in the state and each of its 169 municipalities having a Conservation Commission, Connecticut has a long history of local conservation. NRCA provides an assist to these efforts, while educating students and teachers about the science and issues surrounding natural resource protection. The TPL is joined by the foundational NRCA project, the Conservation Ambassador Program (CAP), and the Conservation Training Partnership (CTP). CAP brings high school students from around the state to campus for a week-long intensive field experience at the UConn main campus, from which they return home to partner with a community organization on a conservation project of their own design. CTP moves around the state for two-day training of adult-student teams that teaches them about smart phone mapping applications and their use in conservation. The teams then return and implement a conservation project. Together the three programs have educated 308 participants and resulted in 187 local conservation projects in 105 towns, involving 119 community partner organizations.

Article by Chet Arnold

Teacher Professional Learning: Professional Development Workshop

teachers during a workshopUConn Extension is leading a project that provides high school science teachers from across the state with a head start on a new way of teaching. Over the past two summers, 48 teachers from 38 school districts attended the 3-day Teacher Professional Learning (TPL) workshop, Land and Water.

The training, funded by a USDA/NIFA grant, was developed and is taught by Extension faculty from the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) and partners from the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, the Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering, and the Neag School of Education. This formidable partnership conducts three inter-related STEM projects collectively known as the Natural Resources Conservation Academy.

Connecticut is one of 19 states to date that have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), an ambitious new way of teaching science that was developed by  a consortium of states and nonprofit science organizations including the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Research Council. Connecticut school districts are still in the very early stages of adopting NGSS method- ologies, and many teachers are eager for educational units and techniques that fit NGSS standards.

The main focus of the UConn workshop is the relationship of land use to water resource health, and the use of online mapping and other geospatial tools to help explore these relationships—particular strengths of the CLEAR team. The UConn campus and surrounding area provide an ideal outdoor laboratory to explore these concepts. Attendees sample three streams within about a mile of campus, all with very different characteristics based on the predominant land use of their respective watersheds—agriculture, urban, and forest. They then come back to the classroom, study their results, and compare notes to get a sense of the importance of land use in determining the health of a water body. Also used in the instruction is the campus itself, which has become a showcase of low impact development (LID) practices designed to reduce the impact of stormwater runoff on local streams. After learning about LID and touring the green roofs, rain gardens, and pervious pavements across campus, the participants visit a nearby campus build- ing and devise their own plan for LID installation. The workshop also introduces them to online mapping and watershed analysis tools that enable them to focus in on their own town, watershed or even high school campus, thus using their community waterways as a teaching tool.

Teachers leave the training with a wide variety of resources to help them in the classroom, not the least of which is their personal experience working through these topics with the Extension instructional team. In addition, the Neag members of the team have developed a 25-unit lesson plan that follows the educational progression of the workshop; teachers are encouraged to adapt all or part of the lesson plan for their use. Of the latest (summer 2018) class of 25 teachers, 100% said that the training was relevant to their classroom instruction, that the training was time well-invested, and that they would recommend the training to other teachers. Research is ongoing on how many teachers implemented all or part of the curriculum, and how it played out with their students. Although the project plan was for two workshops, they have been so well received that the team is holding a third TPL training in the summer of 2019 and is looking for resources that would enable them to continue this program for the foreseeable future.

Article by Chet Arnold

Connecticut Institute of Water Resources

photo of a stream taken by UConn student Molly Cunninghma
Photo: Molly Cunningham

What do taking a trip to the beach, testing a well, and planting a new garden have in common? You guessed it—water. UConn is home to a state-wide organization focused on providing Connecticut’s citizens with information and research about all the water resources we encounter in our daily lives.

As the state’s land grant university, UConn’s College of Agriculture Health and Natural Resources became the home of the Connecticut Institute of Water Resources (CTIWR) in 1964, and it is housed in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. The institute seeks to resolve state and regional water related problems and provide a strong connection between water resource managers and the academic community. CTIWR also shares water-related research and other information with the general public to bridge the gap between scientists and the community.

The institute is currently expanding and focusing more attention on community outreach with the arrival of new center director, Michael Dietz.

“Our goal is to increase visibility of the water research in language that the general public can understand and use in their daily lives,” says Dietz. “We want to become a one-stop shop for information about all kinds of water-related issues. Where can you go to get your water tested, up to date information about drought or water quality around the state, in addition to research reports and funding opportunities for scientists.”

Recent projects explored leaching of nitrogen and phosphorous from lawns, relationships between metals and organic matter in soils, and quantifying the impact of road salts on wetlands in Eastern Connecticut.

“UConn has some really talented water researchers from different disciplines who can help citizens in our state better understand issues that affect our water resources. Through CTIWR, we’ll make sure that these experts and citizens can come together, speak the same language, and learn from one another.”

Article by Jessica McBride, PhD

Reducing Winter Road Salt Use

snow plow on a street in Connecticut during winter stormExtension educator Mike Dietz focuses on protecting surface waters with green infrastructure techniques in his research and Extension work. Mike has been involved in the development of the Green Snow Pro program, and he is the Director of the Connecticut Institute of Water Resources.

The scientific studies continue to pile up, and confirm the same thing: road salt is causing lots of problems in our streams and groundwater. The majority of salt applied is sodium chloride, also known as rock salt. In the absence of a new “miracle” deicer, salt will continue to be the most cost effective product for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the only way to reduce the impacts will be to reduce the amount that gets applied, while still keeping surfaces safe for travel.

New Hampshire began the “Green Snow Pro” voluntary salt applicator certification program to train municipal public works employees and private con- tractors. This training includes information about the science of salt, the downstream impacts of salt, how to properly apply given weather conditions, and how to calibrate equipment. An additional key component of the New Hampshire program is limited liability release: a property owner who hires a Green Snow Pro certified contracted has liability protection from slip and fall litigation.

Given the success of the program in New Hampshire, the Technology Transfer (T2) Center at UConn gathered professionals from UConn Extension, Connecticut Department of Transportation, Connecticut Department of Public Health, municipal public works, and Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to adapt the program here in Connecticut. A pilot of the training was per- formed here at UConn in November 2017. UConn public works staff received a classroom and spreader calibration training. Mike Dietz maintains a monitoring station on Eagleville Brook downstream of campus. He was able to compare the amount of salt in runoff for the winter after the training, as compared to prior years (correcting for the number of storms). Substantial reductions were found: over 2,600 less tons of salt were used during the 2017- 2018 season, corrected for the number of storms. This resulted in a savings of over $313,000 in salt costs alone! A summary of these findings is currently under review at the Journal of Extension.

The statewide implementation of the Green Snow Pro program in Connecticut has begun: during the fall of 2018 the T2 center gave two separate trainings for municipal public works crews and more are being scheduled for this year. The group will continue to meet to work on the liability protection here in Connecticut, as well as expanding the offering to private contractors.

This effort has been a great collaboration of UConn educators, regulators, and public works professionals. The success of this program highlights the fact that education truly can have lasting environmental benefits.

Article by Mike Dietz

Got Geese?

Canada goose by pond
Image: Brigitte Werner from Pixabay

Got Geese? If you’re trying to keep Canada Geese away from your pond, Pamm Cooper from our UConn Home & Garden Education Center has some strategies for you:

 
“The best way to try and dissuade Canada geese from becoming residents of your property is to make sure water edges of ponds or shorelines are not mowed directly to the water’s edge or banks. Allowing higher vegetation on banks between the water and grazing grounds does not allow geese, and especially baby geese, quick access to the water if they feel threatened. They like a clear view of the water when on land, and a clear view of land when in the water in areas where they will feed on shore. Once they are residents, they are harder to get to move elsewhere.
 
One effective deterrent is to spray grasses that they feed on with a repellent, the best of which taste like grape. They do not like grape, so this may work. Applications may need repeating after rains, or according to label instructions. It is applied by spraying. For more information: https://njaes.rutgers.edu/fs1217/

Is Your Well Water Contaminated?

faucet with running water
Photo: Kara Bonsack

Is your well water contaminated with road salt? Dr. Mike Dietz of the Connecticut Institute of Water Resources talked to NBC Connecticut last week about how we can reduce contamination.

“‘This is a worldwide problem. It’s a really big problem in the United States because the amount of salt that we’ve been applying has been increasing dramatically over the past few decades,’ he said.

Dietz says the only solution is to apply less salt. Over the winter, a UConn pilot program showed encouraging results, and saved the university $300,000.”

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