water

New Rules for Corralling Runoff Require Local Actions

By JUDY BENSON

Haddam – As the state gets wetter, Connecticut cities and towns have little choice but to take better control of the water that flows over streets, parking lots and fields from rainfall and snowmelt.

“There are two drivers related to stormwater,” said David Dickson, faculty member of the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR). “One is climate change. New England is seeing more rain and more intense rainfall events. The other is the MS4 general permit, which became effective in 2017.”

Dickson, speaking at a March 22 symposium sponsored by the UConn Climate Adaptation Academy, explained that MS4 — the shorthand term for the new state regulation for how municipal stormwater is managed — now requires cities and towns to reduce nonporous pavement on streets, sidewalks and parking lots. It also requires they establish “low impact development” practices as the standard for new construction. The state regulation is the result of a federal mandate under provisions of the Clean Water Act requiring gradually stricter rules to curb pollution.

“Towns have to enter into a retrofit program to reduce impervious surface areas by two percent by 2022,” Dickson said. “LID now has to be the standard for development. You can’t just say it’s too costly. This is going to change how we think about site development in this state.”

The third workshop in a series on the impacts of changing weather patterns on local land-use practices, the symposium drew about 50 municipal officials from around the state. It was presented at the Middlesex County Extension Center by the Climate Adaptation Academy, a partnership of CT Sea Grant, CLEAR and the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. The Rockfall Foundation co-sponsored the event.

Overall, the purpose of the session was to educate local officials about “what works and what to watch out for to ensure success” when it comes to implementing low impact development, said Tony Marino, executive director of the Rockfall Foundation.

Dickson, the first of the four presenters, explained that with increasing amounts and intensity of precipitation, the impacts of unmanaged stormwater carrying road and agricultural pollutants into the environment are increasing.

“Stormwater is the top source of water pollution into Long Island Sound,” he said.

An illustration of a bioswale is shown during one of the presentations.
An illustration of a bioswale is shown during one of the presentations.

In the 1990s, low-impact development techniques emerged including “green roofs” covered with planted beds to absorb rainfall, grass swales to replace curbs and gutters, rain gardens and bio-retention areas with trees and shrubs situated to absorb runoff, and permeable pavement that allows water to infiltrate into the soil. That allows the soil to capture pollutants and groundwater to be recharged.

Since then, LID designs have been used at several sites on UConn’s main campus and in the Jordan Cove housing development in Waterford, among other locations around the state. While at least one-third of towns in Connecticut have adopted LID techniques at various levels, Dickson said, the new regulation means all towns will have to commit to making them the standard practice because it’s an economical and effective way to comply with the requirement to curtail stormwater runoff.

“Towns will have to start thinking about where impervious cover drains directly into their stormwater system, and enter into retrofit programs to reduce impervious areas,” he said.

Michael Dietz, water resources educator with CLEAR, said that more than 20 years after they were built, the LID features in the Jordan Cove development are still working. Research shows significantly less runoff coming from the portion of the development with LID compared to the control section built with traditional design features, he said. The LID structures continued to function even when the homeowners failed to maintain the areas correctly, he noted.

“The take-home message is that LID mostly still works, in spite of what people do,” he said.

At the main UConn campus, Dietz said, LID has “become part of the fabric of the design” for all new construction since it was first used in the early 2000s. But over those years, there have been mistakes and lessons learned, he added. In one case, curbs were installed where they weren’t supposed to be so runoff ended up being directed away from a bio-retention area. In another case, the bio-retention area was poorly located on the way students took to a dining hall, creating a compacted path that reduced its effectiveness.

“We failed to factor in people,” Dietz said.

The area, he said, was redesigned with a footpath through the middle that still allowed for runoff capture.

Some of the 50 municipal officials who attended the UConn Climate Adaptation Academy about low impact development listen during one of the presentations.
Some of the 50 municipal officials who attended the UConn Climate Adaptation Academy about low impact development listen during one of the presentations.

In another example, a parking lot next to the field house covered with permeable concrete “totally failed” last year and was allowing for “zero infiltration.” The concrete was not mixed and handled properly, he said, and curing time was insufficient, among other problems. It has been replaced with pre-cast pervious concrete blocks. Other challenges include the need for regular cleaning of pervious pavement to unclog porous spaces.

“You neglect it, it costs you down the road,” Dietz said.

Giovanni Zinn, city engineer for New Haven, said the dozens of bio-retention areas, rain gardens, swales and pervious pavement areas installed around the city do require more planning and attention.

“But if you simplify your designs, the construction will be less costly and they’ll be easier to maintain,” he said. Overall, he added, maintenance costs are less costly than for traditional infrastructure.

He advised choosing low-maintenance plantings and involving local residents and community groups in the projects. Looking ahead, New Haven is planning to build 200 more planted swales to capture runoff in the downtown area and another 75 in other parts of town.

“The bio-swales are the first step in dealing with our flash flooding issues in the downtown,” he said.

David Sousa, the final speaker, is a senior planner and landscape architect with CDM Smith, which has its headquarters in Boston and an office in East Hartford. Instead of talking about development practices to minimize runoff, Sousa focused on “how to avoid it altogether.”

He advocated for compact urban redevelopment over “big box” stores with large parking lots. Not only does this give residents stores and restaurants they can get to on foot, by bicycle or mass transportation, “it also saves acres of green fields.”

“It’s being done in our communities,” he said, citing examples in Mansfield, Stamford and Middletown. “But it’s not being done enough.”

Redevelopment of urban areas, he said, creates communities that use fewer resources, which in turn is better for the environment.

“The carbon footprint of people in cities is so much less than those with suburban lifestyles,” he said. “With less vehicle miles traveled, there is less need for impervious parking surfaces, less stormwater flooding and less emissions. We need to think about ways to avoid using LID in the first place.”

Judy Benson is the communications coordinator at Connecticut Sea Grant. She can be reached at:judy.benson@uconn.edu

Install a Rain Garden This Spring

rain garden appWhat is a Rain Garden?

A rain garden is a depression (about 6 inches deep) that collects stormwater runoff from a roof, driveway or yard and allows it to infiltrate into the ground. Rain gardens are typically planted with shrubs and perennials (natives are ideal), and can be colorful, landscaped areas in your yard.

Why a Rain Garden?

Every time it rains, water runs off impervious surfaces such as roofs, driveways, roads and parking lots, collecting pollutants along the way. This runoff has been cited by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as a major source of pollution to our nation’s waterways. By building a rain garden at your home, you can reduce the amount of pollutants that leave your yard and enter nearby lakes, streams and ponds.

Learn more, and use our app or resources to install a rain garden on your property.

New Year Resolution: Take the 40-Gallon Challenge

What are you going to do differently in 2018? How about conserving water with UConn Extension.

dripping tapUConn Extension is inviting all Connecticut residents to join the 40 Gallon Challenge and take on new practices to increase water conservation. The 40 Gallon Challenge is a national call for residents and businesses to reduce water use on average by 40 gallons per person, per day. The challenge began in 2011 as a campaign funded by the Southern Region Water Program and coordinated by the Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and the Southern Region Drinking Water and Rural-Urban Interface Education Program Team.

As a participant in the challenge, one commits to taking on additional indoor and outdoor water savings activities. The top three most pledged commitments are: reducing irrigation station runtimes by 2 minutes, using a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks, and fixing a leaky toilet. There are many other commitments to choose from and each has a daily gallon savings equivalency. Some of the most impactful actions include: installing a “smart irrigation controller” that adjusts for temperature and precipitation (40 gallons daily savings), replacing an old, non-efficient showerhead with low flow showerhead (20 gallons daily savings), and fixing a leaky toilet and faucet (45 gallons daily savings). Participants are encouraged to commit to actions adding up to 40 gallons or more of daily savings.40 gallon challenge logo

This year, UConn Extension is on a mission to spread the word about the challenge and increase Connecticut’s participation. To date, the number of pledges in Connecticut is 25, compared to around 2,000 in Georgia and 4,000 in Texas, states where this program is rooted. We want to increase that number many times over, and demonstrate our commitment to preserving this critical and limited natural resource.

Participation is open to residents of all states and counties. Farmers, gardeners, business owners, homeowners, school children, and all others interested are encouraged to participate and begin the conversation in their communities about why water conservation matters.

To sign up, visit http://www.40gallonchallenge.org/ and fill out a pledge card. To learn more about what UConn Extension is doing about water quality and quantity issues in our state and region, visit http://water.extension.uconn.edu.

UConn Extension Encourages Water Conservation with the 40 Gallon Challenge

By Angie Harris

dripping tapUConn Extension is inviting all Connecticut residents to join the 40 Gallon Challenge and take on new practices to increase water conservation. The 40 Gallon Challenge is a national call for residents and businesses to reduce water use on average by 40 gallons per person, per day. The challenge began in 2011 as a campaign funded by the Southern Region Water Program and coordinated by the Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and the Southern Region Drinking Water and Rural-Urban Interface Education Program Team.

As a participant in the challenge, one commits to taking on additional indoor and outdoor water savings activities. The top three most pledged commitments are: reducing irrigation station runtimes by 2 minutes, using a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks, and fixing a leaky toilet. There are many other commitments to choose from and each has a daily gallon savings equivalency. Some of the most impactful actions include: installing a “smart irrigation controller” that adjusts for temperature and precipitation (40 gallons daily savings), replacing an old, non-efficient showerhead with low flow showerhead (20 gallons daily savings), and fixing a leaky toilet and faucet (45 gallons daily savings). Participants are encouraged to commit to actions adding up to 40 gallons or more of daily savings.40 gallon challenge logo

This year, UConn Extension is on a mission to spread the word about the challenge and increase Connecticut’s participation. To date, the number of pledges in Connecticut is 10, compared to around 2,000 in Georgia and 4,000 in Texas, states where this program is rooted. We want to increase that number many times over, and demonstrate our commitment to preserving this critical and limited natural resource.

On September 15, 2017, UConn Extension will launch their outreach efforts at the Big E in Springfield, MA with pledge forms and water savings materials available to encourage Northeast residents to take the challenge. The Big E, also known as The Eastern States Exposition, is billed as “New England’s Great State Fair”. It is the largest agricultural event on the eastern seaboard and the seventh-largest fair in the nation. Participation is open to residents of all states and counties. Farmers, gardeners, business owners, homeowners, school children, and all others interested are encouraged to participate and begin the conversation in their communities about why water conservation matters.

To sign up, visit http://www.40gallonchallenge.org/ and fill out a pledge card. To learn more about what UConn Extension is doing about water quality and quantity issues in our state and region, visit http://water.extension.uconn.edu.

Preparing Agricultural Leaders for Drought

Article by Kim Colavito Markesich

Originally published by Naturally.UConn.edu

 

water meter install
Water meter installation. Photo: Angie Harris

While Connecticut residents live in a state with ample water resources, we are beginning to notice some changes in precipitation trends.

“Connecticut is very fortunate as we’re actually quite water rich,” says Angie Harris, research assistant in UConn Extension. “We are getting rainfall, but there’s a shift in what we are beginning to experience, and what scientists expect to continue, which is more intense rain events less frequently. This type of rainfall can lead to drought conditions for agricultural producers.”

In 2015, Connecticut requested over $8 million dollars in federal emergency loans to be made available for crop losses due to moderate drought conditions across the state.

Mike O’Neill, associate dean and associate director of UConn Extension, and Harris are working on a two-year water conservation project funded through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Funding is provided through a $400,000 NRCS grant matched one to one by the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.

The UConn team is partnering with NRCS to promote conservation assistance to agricultural producers. The project goal focuses on agricultural water security by helping farmers prepare for drought, improve their irrigation efficiency and establish water conservation practices.

“In the past, NRCS did everything themselves,” O’Neill explains. “But now they are outsourcing some of that work because they realize we have partnerships in the community that can be effective in helping people implement agricultural conservation practices. I think this is a very innovative act on the part of the NRCS.”

Twelve pilot sites across the state have been identified to include a variety of agricultural operations including greenhouses, nurseries, vegetable growers and dairy and livestock farms.

“We’re really trying to target new and beginning agricultural operations because we feel they run the greatest risk of failure as a result of drought,” O’Neill says. “We look at what these operations can do in advance to make them more secure when a drought hits. If you can prepare farmers in advance, then when drought occurs, they’re not dealing with mitigation or lost crops, they will be able to weather the drought and be successful.”

The first step in the project involved review of the operations, followed by a site visit. Then the team installed a water meter at each site. The meter information is easily managed by farmers through an innovative text messaging data collection method developed by Nicholas Hanna, computer programmer with the College’s Office of Communications. The program allows operators to check their meter reading once weekly, quickly send the results via text messaging and receive a confirmation of their submission.

The readings are entered into a database associated with their number and farm name. By season’s end, the team will chart water usage tied to climate variables such as precipitation and wind, and will then review current watering practices and help owners develop strategies that manage water usage and prepare for drought conditions.

The NRCS will also use this data to help farmers access water saving strategies and equipment.

“In the end, we will be directing them to NRCS for financial assistance to implement conservation practices,” says Harris. The NRCS financial assistance programs are designed to help agricultural producers maintain and improve their water program in areas such as soil management and irrigation efficiency.

Some seventy-five agricultural producers have expressed interest in the program thus far, with the number growing weekly. To join the program, farmers complete a water use survey available online. A member of the team will conduct a field site visit. “If farmers are interested in getting a meter, we want to hear from them,” says O’Neill.

“We have a really great team working on this project,” he says. The group includes Rosa Raudales, assistant professor and horticulture extension specialist in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture; Mike Dietz, extension educator in water resources, low impact development and storm water management; and Ben Campbell, former assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, currently an assistant professor and extension economist at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

In another aspect of the project, the team is partnering with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Office of Policy and Management to explore water needs for agriculture in Connecticut. This understanding could inform policy decisions for future agricultural development within the state.

“This is a teachable moment for us,” O’Neill says. “We feel like these agricultural producers are scientists. We have an opportunity to help farmers conserve water, increase profitability and preserve the environment. They treat their business as a science, and we are trying to work with them to help them enhance their science capabilities and make better choices.”

NEMO Program to Help Communities Navigate the New Stormwater Permit

By Dave Dickson
tmdl mapCLEAR’s venerable, award-winning NEMO (Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials) Program is embarking on a five-year program to assist Connecticut communities in complying with the state’s revised “General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater from Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems,” or the MS4 permit. Stormwater runoff is a major source of flooding, erosion and water pollution in Connecticut’s waterways, and is expected to become even more of a problem as climate change progresses.
After much negotiation between CT DEEP, Connecticut municipalities and the environmental community, the MS4 underwent a significant expansion and enhancement this July. Eight new towns have been brought into the program, making a total of 121 (almost ¾ of all the municipalities in the state), and for the first time most state and federal institutions are also included. And, while the program remains organized according to its six “Minimum Control Measures,” there are important new aspects and requirements involving monitoring, maintenance of town properties, and “disconnecting” impervious areas through Low Impact Development (LID).
In the current economic environment Connecticut communities are struggling with a host of needs, and navigating the various aspects of the MS4 will be a challenge. In recognition of this, CT DEEP is funding NEMO to develop and implement a multifaceted support program that includes outreach, technical assistance, web tools and other resources. To list just a few:
  • MS4 “Circuit Rider”: a NEMO Extension Educator dedicated to the MS4 support program will conduct workshops, trainings and consultations with towns.
  • MS4 website: a website far above and beyond the typical regulation website is being developed, as an authoritative and detailed (but not wordy!) guide to MS4 implementation and home for special technical and mapping tools.
  • Webinar series: CLEAR’s webinar series will spin off a special NEMO/MS4 series highlighting different requirements of the regulation and approaches to meet them.
  • Mapping training: CLEAR’s Geospatial Training Program will provide training and tools to help communities meet the new mapping requirements of the permit.
  • Impervious Cover data: NEMO is working with an outside contractor to obtain high resolution impervious cover data, which will be an enormous asset to conducting the drainage area and impervious area analyses required in the permit.

The CLEAR Water Team (aka NEMO Team) is looking forward to this challenge, and in the process developing a whole new generation of stormwater outreach tools and resources. NEMO will be working with DEEP, regional Councils of Government, and both public and private sector organizations to tackle this issue so important to the health and welfare of the citizens of Connecticut.

Look for an announcement of the website soon. In the meantime you can view the CT DEEP MS4 Fact Sheet online (s.uconn.edu/ms4). Questions should be directed to Dave Dickson (david.dickson@uconn.edu) or Mike Dietz (michael.dietz@uconn.edu).

Drought in Connecticut? Who Knew?

By Mike Dietz

Connecticut is not the first place that would likely come to mind if I asked you to come up with a part of the country that experiences drought; the desert southwest and California might typically be first on the list. However, southern New England has received less than normal amounts of precipitation for the past several years, and the impacts are being felt. Some homeowners with shallow wells are running out of water, a reservoir in Massachusetts got so low that it had to be taken off line, and water restrictions have been implemented in some areas. And for the first time ever, the governor has issued a drought watch for 6 of our 8 counties.

Figure 1. Annual precipitation in Connecticut, 1895 - 2015.

Figure 1. Annual precipitation in Connecticut, 1895 – 2015.

Let’s take a quick look at our annual precipitation totals over the last 120 years. As can be seen in Figure 1 (data from the interactive NOAA website), annual precipitation in Connecticut can be quite variable. Our “normal” annual precipitation is around 47 inches per year (horizontal line in graph). We have had many years with less than normal precipitation, and a prolonged drought in the 1960s. The last four years have all been below normal, and 2016 is looking to finish in that category as well.

What does it actually mean to be in drought condition? For Connecticut, there are several criteria used to make this decision, which can be seen on the State of Connecticut water status page:

The State Drought Preparedness Plan is also available on this page (did you know we had one of these? I didn’t…). The criteria used to determine our drought status cover a wide range of areas; it is not just about how much rain we have had recently. It becomes clear after looking at this list just how much we depend on rainfall to support our existence in this region. Our drinking water supplies and agricultural production in the state are heavily dependent on regular precipitation. This is quite different from the Western U.S. where winter snowpack or large river systems provide irrigation and municipal water.

The U.S. Drought Monitor prodrought1vides information on national drought conditions. A number of different indices are used to determine the classifications from “Abnormally Dry” to “Exceptional Drought”. Parts of Connecticut are currently classified as being in Extreme Drought, where major crop losses and water shortages/restrictions are possible. Agricultural producers can be extremely vulnerable to drought, as many in this area are dependent on natural precipitation to water their crops. UConn Extension is currently working with agricultural producers in the Connecticut to help them become more resilient to drought. More information on this project can be found at http://water.extension.uconn.edu.

What can you do? If you are on a public water system, your supplier may have already sent you information on how to reduce your consumption to ensure adequate supplies for all. The Regional Water Authority has tips on their website. If you have a shallow well, you will want to pay close attention to your water system, and contact a well contractor if you believe you are running out of water. Any of the tips on the website above will help to reduce your consumption and ensure that you have adequate water for your home.

It is uncertain at this point when this drought will end. Changing climate may be exacerbating this problem; both more extreme precipitation totals and extended periods of drought are expected for southern New England. For now, I will watch hopefully out the window to see if today’s rain will bring some much needed relief.

Water Solutions

Rosa Raudales in greenhouse
Photo: Kara Bonsack

Irrigation and plant pathogens, or infectious organisms, in water are recurring themes for Rosa Raudales, an Assistant Professor of Horticulture and Greenhouse Extension Specialist. Rosa’s first job was on a plantain irrigation project in Honduras. As an undergraduate, her thesis focused on pathogens in hydroponic systems, where plants are grown in a soilless system. Rosa researched biological controls, water treatments, and plant pathogen controls during her graduate studies.

At UConn, Rosa builds off the foundation she created; with applied research focusing on using low-quality water for irrigation, and developing management strategies to control microbes and unwanted chemicals in irrigation water. A holistic, multidisciplinary approach addressing biological, chemical and physical parameters of water quality is developed for each project. Rosa then delivers science-based information to growers, solving plant health and horticulture issues with efficient and sustainable practices.

An integrated research team from the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) is partnering with faculty from the School of Engineering on a project called Smart-Resource Grids: Exploring Technical Solutions to Grand Challenges at the Water-Energy-Food Nexus. The project is funded through the UConn Office of the Provost.

Richard McAvoy, Department Head of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture is project director. Rosa is one of 14 faculty members on the project, and water thrust co-leader with Tim Vadas from the School of Engineering. By building a smart-resource micro grid on the Storrs campus, researchers can study how water, food, and energy relate to one another and find synergistic relationships.

The UConn grant funds are developing infrastructure that demonstrates how wastewater can sustain agriculture. Reclaimed water will be used for irrigation and bio-solids from the wastewater will be used to produce energy. A gasifier owned by the School of Engineering will generate energy from the bio-solids in the form of natural gas. The gas can then be used to generate heat or electricity for use in the greenhouse, or the energy can be used someplace else where demand is needed on the grid.

Connecticut regulations indicate that reclaimed water cannot touch the soil. Greenhouses can have closed-loop irrigation systems, which have zero runoff. Using reclaimed water conserves resources and allows treated water to serve a purpose.

“The broader application is in becoming more efficient on how we utilize resources,” Rosa says. “Using what is considered waste in other industries, as an agricultural input, puts less pressure on natural resources. We will also produce energy from solid-waste. Our team added the food component with the idea of designing the integrated cities of the future, where nothing is wasted. The project will give cities that already treat wastewater an option on how to use it safely, while growing food locally.”

Space and resources are limited in many areas, including food deserts, but there is often a water treatment facility. Food could be grown in these areas using technology and efficiencies developed by the UConn team. Economists on the project are researching feasibility and practical application.

“My role on this project is to evaluate how to grow crops effectively by balancing nutrition and preventing biofouling on the pipes,” Rosa mentions. “The outreach component consists on understanding how to facilitate adoption of our system and developing a system that is feasible for cities to integrate.”

The USDA Critical Agricultural Research and Extension (CARE) Project is a $200,000 grant. Rosa is collaborating with Jeff McCutcheon from the School of Engineering, and Richard McAvoy and Michael O’Neill of CAHNR. The project looks at why horticultural farms are not using low quality water sources, and barriers for adoption (sidebar, at right).

Water quantity is a national priority. The Agricultural Water Security grant is co-sponsored by the Connecticut Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and UConn Extension. Rosa collaborates with Michael O’Neill, Michael Dietz, and Angie Murdukhayeva of UConn Extension. Associate Dean Michael O’Neill is project director.

The RCPP project will identify how much water agriculture uses, and risks of different operations in the event of severe drought. During the first phase, the team is looking at how water is being used at operations. The second phase will develop drought management plans for different types of operations through technical support and financial assistance.

Rosa is applying for more grants to build off her current research. One thing is certain, as she continues to tie research to real life, the questions related to food, security, water conservation, and energy resources will be answered.

Water Conservation Tips

dripping tap

We’re having a dry summer in Connecticut. There are many simple steps for you to conserve water at home, including:

- Taking shorter showers

- Running dishwashers and laundry machines with full loads

- Shutting off water while washing dishes, shaving, brushing teeth, and lathering up to wash hands, rather than running the water continuously

- Avoid washing vehicles, or power-washing homes and other buildings

- Not using water to clean sidewalks, driveways, and roads

- Reducing as much as possible the watering of lawns, recreational and athletic fields, gardens, or other landscape areas

- Not using public water to fill residential pools

- Promptly repairing any leaks