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 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

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.

Spraying Nematodes

Michael's Greenhouse

Watch the video that shows a grower (Michael’s Greenhouse in Cheshire CT ) applying the insect killing beneficial nematodes are applied thru their automatic watering system onto their hanging baskets on a cloudy day.
The nematodes are in the bucket you see and then they use the fertilizer injector (with the screens removed) to apply the nematodes. This is commonly done on the bench or floor crops, but I think they are one of the few growers with a specially designed watering boom for their hanging baskets to apply the nematodes this way to the hanging baskets.

Nematodes are small, colorless, cylindrical round worms that occur naturally in soils throughout the world. Different species work best against different insect pests. Steinernema feltiae is primarily used against fungus gnat larvae and thrips pupae dwelling in the soil media. Fungus gnat larvae may be parasitized in any larval stage. Nematodes have traditionally been used against soil dwelling pests because they are sensitive to ultra violet light and desiccation.

The beneficial nematodes enter the insect host through body openings. These insect killing nematodes multiply within the host and release a symbiotic bacterium (Xenorhabdus spp.) whose toxin kills the target pest, i.e. fungus gnats. The fungus gnat larvae are killed in one to two days by blood poisoning. More than one generation of nematodes may develop in dead host insect in the growing media. The infective juveniles then exit the dead body and search for new hosts to infect.

More information can be found at:…

Video: Leanne Pundt, UConn Extension

Three Connecticut Projects Selected for RCPP Funding

RCPP pic2
(l to r) Congressman Joe Courtney, Last Green Valley Ex. Dir. Lois Bruinooge, NRCS Chief Jason Weller, Commissioner of Ag Steven Reviczky, NRCS State Conservationist Lisa Coverdale, DEEP Commissioner Rob Klee, Associate Dean UConn CANR Mike O’Neill, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Dean UCONN CANR Gregory Weidemann, and Connecticut Association of Conservation Districts President Denise Savageau attend the announcement event at the State Capitol in Hartford.

“More than 600 pre-proposals were submitted nationwide. With so many strong proposals, the project selection process was extremely competitive,” said Lisa Coverdale, Connecticut State Conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. “We are so very proud that three from Connecticut have been selected for funding. This is such an amazing opportunity to work with some really innovative groups, including some we’ve never had the opportunity to work with before.”

Chosen as a national project was a proposal submitted by the Connecticut Association of Conservation Districts which will address excess nutrients that have been identified as the primary cause of hypoxic conditions in Long Island Sound (impacting upland water resources within the watershed including areas of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont). The RCPP program will provide $10 million toward the project which will develop a comprehensive, whole-farm management certainty program for farmers in the area. The project will utilize both working lands and easement programs to improve soil health and nutrient management, establish community resiliency areas with a focus on enhancing riparian areas, and institute a land protection program to protect agricultural and forestry areas.
“RCPP puts our partners in the driver’s seat,” said Coverdale. “Projects are led locally, and demonstrate the value of strong public-private partnerships that deliver solutions to tough natural resource challenges.” 
“This grant is a major investment that will help preserve our treasured Long Island Sound for generations to come,” said Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-2). “The funding will enable local, state and federal partners to work together to protect the watershed across our region, improving the health of the Sound and strengthening our regional commitment to our environment.”
RCPP pic
Congresswoman DeLauro and Congressman Courtney congratulate UConn CAHNR Dean Greg Weidemann and Associate Dean Mike O’Neill in helping bring over $10 million in grant funding to Connecticut to address regional water quality and water quantity issues in the Long Island Sound watershed.

“This new funding gives the Long Island Sound a welcome and much-needed boost,” said Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-3), Co-Chair of the Congressional Long Island Sound Caucus. “It will enable us to connect local, state and federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations, across the Long Island Sound watershed, and give them necessary resources to protect the Sound. In addition to protecting the natural beauty of the Sound, this helps create tourism and recreation jobs, bolstering our economy. This level of coordination and funding is unprecedented, and a great step forward for Connecticut.”


“For the strength of our regional economy and the long term health of our environment, preservation of the Long Island Sound and its watershed is imperative,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal. “Connecticut is leading the region in this vital effort to ensure our waterways, farmland and forests continue to thrive as we confront the looming challenge of climate change. This powerful collaboration will pay dividends for generations to come, and I look forward to continuing to support this important work.”


“This new initiative provides an incentive for local conservation districts, state and federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations to collaborate on a landscape scale program to protect Long Island Sound,” said Denise Savageau, President of the Connecticut Association of Conservation Districts. “The RCPP will allow us to better leverage resources and will serve as a catalyst for new public-private partnerships within the watershed.”


“This multi-organization initiative provides land use managers the tools and resources to make a significant positive impact on conditions affecting Long Island Sound and its tributaries,” said Jeff Folger, Chair of the Connecticut Council on Soil and Water Conservation.


“The Connecticut River Watershed Council is pleased to be one of the project partners that will be using the RCPP award to improve the health and vitality of both the Connecticut River and the Long Island Sound,” said Andrew Fisk, Executive Director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council. “These two iconic New England waterbodies contribute mightily to the quality of life and the economy of New England, so we are proud to be working with landowners to help them do their part to restore and protect the public’s water.”


“The Nature Conservancy is excited to be part of the Long Island Sound Watershed Regional Conservation Partnership Program,” said Kim Lutz, Director of the Conservancy’s Connecticut River Program. “These funds will provide critical dollars to address conservation needs in two connected natural systems that are priorities for the Conservancy: the Long island Sound and the Connecticut River systems. We’re especially happy to have the opportunity to expand our work helping improve resilience in the face of a changing climate. The Conservancy is extremely grateful to Congressman Joe Courtney, of Connecticut’s 2nd District, and Congressional representatives throughout the multistate Long Island Sound watershed for support of this funding. We look forward to working with the NRCS and a diverse array of partners throughout the region to achieve the projects’ ambitious goals.”


“Long Island Sound is one of the Northeast’s greatest natural resource and deserves our protection and preservation,” said DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee.  “As it is a regional resource, it requires regional efforts to ensure its health – the funding we are receiving today will help make this happen.” 
“Protecting the shellfish-rich waters of Long Island Sound by helping farmers implement best-management practices on working farmlands is critical to sustaining the growth of Connecticut’s thriving agricultural economy,” state Department of Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky said. “This funding will help ensure that these vital natural resources continue to produce both healthy food for consumers and a prosperous living for our hardworking farmers and other agricultural producers. I applaud the NRCS for this innovative approach that leverages resources and enlists the collaboration of all involved stakeholders.”
“We are thrilled to be part of this pivotal legacy initiative,” said Highstead Conservation Director Emily Bateson. “Highstead works with 20 public-private conservation collaboratives across the Long Island Sound Watershed who now have an opportunity to partner with the Natural Resource Conservation Service to dramatically increase land and clean water protection for future generations.”
Two additional state projects were selected for funding:
  • Achieving Agricultural Water Security in Connecticut through RCPP was submitted by the University of Connecticut. Partners will utilize $400,000 in RCPP funds to work with producers to help optimize food production, improve irrigation efficiency, reduce impacts of drought, and become economically resilient in the face of greater climate variability.
  • Improving Soil Health and Water Quality in the Thames River Watershedwas submitted by The Last Green Valley. Partners will utilize $400,000 in RCPP funds work to improve soil health and water quality in the Thames River Watershed. The long-term objective is to implement soil health conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program on 1,000 acres of cropland and show a measurable improvement of edge-of-field and in-stream water quality, including a decrease in nutrient and turbidity levels. 
Projects not selected in this first year may be eligible in subsequent years. The next announcement of program funding for FY 2016 will be made later this year. For more information on Connecticut RCPP projects, visit the Connecticut NRCS website, or view the full list of projects on the National NRCS website.