The Connecticut Sea Grant program, joined by volunteers from Save the Sound, the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk and other groups, will launch the fifth annual #DontTrashLISound
campaign with a cleanup at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport on Aug. 16.
This year’s campaign, run by the Connecticut and New York Sea Grant programs with support from the Long Island Sound Study, will run through International Coastal Cleanup Day on Sept. 18. It will consist of cleanup events in both states, social media posts and giveaways of “Protect Our Wildlife” stickers for reusable water bottles and travel mugs.
The theme of this year’s campaign, #DoOneThing, encourages people to take at least one action to reduce litter on streets, parks and beaches before it gets carried into waterways and ultimately Long Island Sound. Social media posts will emphasize positive steps people are taking to address the problem.
“Campaigns like this one help keep people aware of the larger marine debris problem affecting Long Island Sound,” said Nancy Balcom, associate director of Connecticut Sea Grant. “They also help people focus on doable actions that we can all undertake with as much or as little effort as we have time to commit.”
July’s wet weather may have dampened plans for beach days and barbeques, but it’s also a reminder of an environmental problem homeowners can help solve in their own yards.
The excess of rainfall—about twice the amount normally seen so far this month—means more stormwater tainted with lawn chemicals, oil and gas residues and other pollutants has been entering our streams, rivers and Long Island Sound. The polluted runoff flows off roads, driveways, roofs and parking lots into storm drains that carry it directly into our waterways, untreated, sometimes resulting in high bacteria counts that recently closed swimming areas at Ocean Beach in New London and Rocky Neck State Park in Niantic for a few days.
“A lot of people think stormwater goes to a treatment facility, but most of it just drains directly into a water body,” said David Dickson, faculty member and extension educator for UConn CLEAR (Center for Land Use Education and Research). “Runoff is one of the top water quality problems, especially here in Connecticut.”
But it’s also a problem where small-scale efforts with muscle and a shovel can make a big difference. And thanks to a recently updated, user-friendly app and the added motivation of new state requirements for stormwater—set against all the recent rainfall—there’s no better time for individual action than right now.
Dickson and his colleagues at UConn CLEAR are proponents of rain gardens, an elegantly simple, relatively inexpensive solution that can also enhance outdoor spaces for both people and wildlife. This is basically a bowl-shaped area planted with native grasses, shrubs and flowers tolerant of both extreme wet and dry conditions where runoff is channeled and absorbed into the soil, filtering out pollutants along the way.
Over the past four years, more than 45 rain gardens have been installed at schools, town halls, museums and other public spaces throughout New London and Windham counties, led by the Eastern Connecticut Conservation District. Judy Rondeau, assistant director of the ECCD, quickly ticked off some examples: gardens at East Lyme High School, the Mystic Art Association, Whalen’s Wharf in Stonington, the Groton Social Services Building and the Lebanon Historical Society among them, all collecting runoff from adjacent roofs and pavement.
One of the newest rain gardens in the region can be found at the William A. Buckingham Memorial in Norwich. It was built by Master Gardener Sue Augustyniak as a service project for the Coastal Certificate program, a joint offering of Connecticut Sea Grant, the UConn Master Gardener Program and the Long Island Sound Study. The garden collects water that had been running off the historic home property onto the road, with pussy willow, sweet pepperbush and other plants gracing the shoulders.
“It’s helping keep the Thames watershed clean,” she said. “It’s a great way to help my own community.”
Rondeau encourages people to visit one of the local gardens.
“Seeing them can give people an immediate understanding of where the water’s coming from,” she said, adding that plans are in the works for another 20 rain gardens over the next year.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to get some in this summer, if it ever stops raining,” she joked.
But rain gardens in public places are only part of the solution. Rondeau and Dickson are hoping to spur interest among homeowners to build rain gardens in their own yards. The gardens would not only help solve water issues on their own properties but would also help the cities and towns where they live. Starting this year, all but the most rural towns in the state are required to divert 1% of runoff away from pavement and out of storm drains each year.
“A very easy way to do that is to push rain gardens,” said Rondeau. “It’s a way individual homeowners can make a bit of a difference and beautify a corner at the same time. But even if you don’t like gardening, you can just put in a grass garden. It functions the same.”
So how do you build a rain garden?
That’s where the newly refurbishedrain garden app, co-created by Dickson and his CLEAR colleague Michael Dietz, comes in. Launched nine years ago with funding from Connecticut Sea Grant, the updated app is now a web-based tool usable on mobile phones, desktop computers and everything in between. It gives step-by-step guidance on choosing a site, calculating the size, testing the soil, choosing plants and digging the hole the right way to the right depth.
“Especially with some of the heavy, flashy rains we’ve been getting, it’s important to divert as much of that water as possible,” said Rondeau. “It will relieve stress on the storm drain system and direct the water to where it will infiltrate into the soil.”
Abandoned boats, broken lobster traps, discarded tires and all types of other trash aren’t just eyesores on Long Island Sound’s beaches, coves and channels.
They’re also hazards to wildlife that can impede navigation and threaten human safety and health. To address this problem, Connecticut and New York Sea Grant programs will initiate a Marine Debris Action Plan for Long Island Sound. The project will gather groups involved in removal and prevention work as the basis for to develop a comprehensive strategy to rid the Sound of as much debris as possible.
The Marine Debris Action Plan for Long Island Sound is one of eight projects awarded funding through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant-Marine Debris Special Projects Competition. A total of $350,000 was awarded for the eight projects, which will be matched by $350,000 from the state programs. The CT-NY project will receive $50,000 in federal funding which will be matched with $53,000 from the two programs. The two Sea Grant programs will develop the plan in cooperation with the EPA Long Island Sound Study, a bi-state cooperative partnership of state and federal agencies, and numerous user groups and organizations concerned about the estuary shared by New York and Connecticut. The NOAA Marine Debris Program coordinators for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions will be active participants, sharing insights and experiences from other similar efforts.