water

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.”

Read the full story:

Bedding Plant Program for Greenhouse Growers Offered

greenhouse flowers
Photo: Leanne Pundt

UConn Extension offers Bedding Plant Program for Greenhouse Growers

Get the latest information on insect and disease management, proper watering techniques and mixing pesticide formulations and network with fellow growersThis educational program will feature the following topics of interest to those who produce spring ornamental crops in the greenhouse:

  • Watering: Air and Water Balance in the Root-Zone

Rosa Raudales, Greenhouse Extension Specialist, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

  • Root Rots, Mildews, and Blights

Dr. Yonghao Li, CT Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven, CT

  • Update on Managing Insects and Mites

Leanne Pundt, Extension Educator, UConn Extension, Torrington, CT

  • Pesticide Formulations

Candace Bartholomew, Pesticide Safety Educator, UConn Extension

 

For your convenience, this program will be offered in two separate locations.

  • January 29th, this program will be offered from 9:30 to 2:30 at the Litchfield County Extension Center at 843 University Drive in Torrington, CT.
  • February 14th, this program will be offered from 9:30 to 2:30 p.m. at the Tolland County Extension Office at 24 Hyde Avenue in Vernon, CT.

 

Four Pesticide recertification credits available

Handouts, lunch and beverages will be included in your registration fee of $25.00.

Please make checks payable to the University of Connecticut and send to Litchfield County Extension Center, 843 University Drive, Torrington, CT 06790.  No credit card payments accepted.

For more information, contact Leanne Pundt, at 860.626.6855 or email: leanne.pundt@uconn.edu Click here to view program brochure and registration form.

The University of Connecticut is an equal opportunity program provider and employer.

Well Water: Protecting Your Well

faucet with running water
Photo: Kara Bonsack

There are a number of steps that a homeowner can take to help protect their private well.

  • Water should be diverted away from the wellhead to prevent the pooling and potential introduction of contaminated water  into the well.
  • Keep the well in good repair.  A faulty well can allow surface water to reach groundwater without filtering through the soil.
  • Use care when applying pesticides and fertilizers to lawns and gardens near the well (better yet, avoid use entirely if possible).  These products contain chemicals and/or nutrients that can contaminate well water.
  • Abandoned wells should be sealed.  They are a prime entryway for contaminants.

Article by Karen Filchak, Retired Extension Educator

Home Water Systems: Wells

water well Distric La Serra
Photo: Wikimedia

In Connecticut, approximately 15% of residents receive their drinking water from private wells. In rural areas of the state, that percentage increases to greater than 90%.

An owner of a private well is also a manager of the well.  As manager of the well, the homeowner is responsible for making sure that the water is safe to drink and the well is  not damaged or compromised.   Public water systems are required to regularly test water and meet federally set water quality standards.  Private wells are not required to test and meet standards except following installation and at time of sale of the property.

It is important to have a basic understanding of factors affecting well water, what to test for andwhere to have well water tested.  Practices to reduce the risk of contamination of well water are also important to the safety of drinking water.

Many homeowners are unaware of the recommendation to routinely test their private well.  A basic series of tests is recommended annually. Other tests should be conducted based on potential sources of contaminants that may affect the well. This would be based on the potential presence of naturally occurring contaminants or those introduced by human activities/land uses.

It is recommended that homeowners use a testing laboratory that is EPA certified to test. The EPA has certified laboratories to assure that the labs have the proper equipment to test for the contaminants that they advertise.  Not all environmental laboratories test for everything.  It is a good consumer practice to compare two or three labs to determine which best suits the consumer’s needs.

If the water tests indicate that there is a problem, information is available to help the homeowner understand what the problem is and what options are available to address the problem if needed.

There are a number of steps that homeowners can take that can help to protect the quality of water in the private well.

Article by Karen Filchak, Retired Extension Educator