UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research

Multi-Faceted Approach to Nitrogen Management

aerial map of field spreading in agriculture
Photo: Rich Meinert

We have a multi-faceted approach to nitrogen management in Connecticut that addresses land use issues, agricultural production, and water quality. 

Extension faculty from the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) are working on several applied research projects in support of better nitrogen (N) management. They are collaborating with the University of Rhode Island and EPA to create an online tool, “N-Sink,” to track the movement of N in coastal watersheds (Highlights, 2020). In a project funded by the Long Island Sound Study (LISS), they are using cutting-edge high resolution land cover data to explore the relationship of land use to N export for the over 4,300 small watershed basins in Connecticut. Finally, the CLEAR geospatial team is part of another LISS study, led by Dr. Ashley Helton of the 

Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, that is looking at “legacy” N loadings that are derived from past land uses that are no longer apparent but that continue to export N to our waters. 

Rich Meinert is working with three farms on developing accurate as applied maps for farm applications. Current as applied maps provided by GPS systems are inaccurate on smaller New England farms. Our small irregularly shaped fields require spreaders to negotiate tight turns. Current generation software does not calculate the differences in as applied rates between the inside and the outside of a turn. Preliminary measurements using equipment on one of the farms has resulted in a 30% decrease in application rate on the outside of a turn versus the inside of the turn. 

Another challenge in our smaller fields is overlap. Current spreaders have a fixed operating width. They throw lime, fertilizer, or manure with a set amount of force, across a fixed width, or they spray manure, or pesticides from a single point or a set of nozzles with a certain pressure and spray pattern, like a paint sprayer. Having a fixed application width and a varying field shape inevitably results in overlap. Certain sprayers can shut off nozzles to prevent overlap, but fertilizer and manure spreaders cannot vary their discharge. This research is currently collecting data to develop a computer algorithm to show where the nutrients are actually going so that future nutrient applications can target areas of fields that need it, and avoid areas that have had excess nutrients applied previously.

Visit CLEAR.uconn.edu and s.uconn.edu/nutrientmanagement for more information.

Article by Chet Arnold and Rich Meinert

CLEAR Online Training Portal

man sitting at an Apple computer

The Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) is the new home to a suite of online certificate trainings. The CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) offers online certificate courses for new and existing land use officials charged with protecting our environment. DEEP asked CLEAR to host them to expand reach and access. 

DEEP issues a Certificate of Achievement upon successful course completion. The courses are not limited to municipal officials. DEEP encourages participation by anyone interested in learning about land use in Connecticut—all courses are free. 

Online training modules from CLEAR’s Land Use Academy and Adapt CT, as well as links to training schedules for the New Farms and Farmers and the Geospatial Training programs are also available. 

DEEP Certificate Trainings 

  • Aquifer Protection Program Technical Training 
  • Municipal Inland Wetlands Agency Comprehensive Training Program 
  • Hazardous Waste Management Training 
  • The 21st Century Resilient Business: How Managing Chemicals Can Help You Weather the Storm (in development) 

Visit clear.uconn.edu/training for more details.

New Geographic Information Systems Office

CT ECO interactive 3D Lidar Point Viewer map showing downtown Hartford region.
CT ECO interactive 3D Lidar Point Viewer map
showing downtown Hartford region.

Geospatial Educator Emily Wilson was named as the UConn representative to the newly formed Geographic Information Systems Advisory Council. The Council was established by the Connecticut Legislature last session in a bill that created a state Geographic Information Systems Office within the Office of Policy and Management, a Geographic Information Officer (GIO) to oversee the new Office, and the Council to Advise the GIO. Prior to this bill, Connecticut was one of only a handful of states without a state GIS office. Emily has been at the forefront of explaining the many reasons that Connecticut needs to reduce redundancy, and increase efficiency with respect to the collection and coordination of mapping data. For more information on our work with geographic information systems visit CLEAR.uconn.edu.

Article by Chet Arnold

Job Opening: Water Quality Extension Educator

Naugatuck River
Naugatuck River in Waterbury. Photo: John McDonald
We are seeking an Assistant/Associate Extension Educator in Water Quality with a 75% extension, 25% research mission split housed within the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research in Haddam.
This joint-appointed position between UConn Extension and the Natural Resources & the Environment in UConn CAHNR begins reviewing applications on April 1st. Full details: academicjobsonline.org/ajo/jobs/21333

N-Sink Online Tool

A New Way of Looking at Nitrogen Pollution

Extension educators from the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) and their partners have developed an online tool that helps land owners and land use decision makers better understand the direct connection between their land and nitrogen (N) pollution in coastal waters.

The tool, called “N-Sink,” is the result of a multi-year collaboration of CLEAR with the University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute and the EPA Atlantic Coastal Environmental Sciences Division Laboratory in Narragansett, Rhode Island.

map with a lot of red areas on it where there is nitrogen pollution
The particle tracking tool (shown here is the lower Pawcatuck River) allows users to click on a point within a watershed and, within seconds, generate its flow path to the coast and get an estimate of how much N (relatively speaking) will be delivered.

Nitrogen (N) pollution is a big threat to water quality, especially in coastal areas like Long Island Sound. Excess nutrients like N can fuel algal blooms that rob the waters of oxygen, directly harm marine life, and damage habitat. As a result, much attention has been paid to N pollution by the scientific community, including the development of many models designed to explore the transport and fate of N in our coastal watersheds. Most of these models focus on N “loadings,” i.e., estimating the amount of N being put into the system from sources like agricultural and lawn practices, septic systems, and atmospheric deposition from acid rain. Thus the focus is on what the total load of N is to the receiving water body, and what the impacts to that water body might be.

N-Sink uses a different approach that shifts the focus to the land within the watershed, rather than the receiving waters. The end result is a series of maps that help to provide specific geographic focus on which areas in the watershed are at the most risk for sending N to the coast (see maps, right). To do this, N-Sink uses particle tracking technology in concert with stream network data that includes information on nitrogen “sinks”—areas in the landscape that help to remove N from the system, like wetlands, riparian areas, lakes, and ponds. Depending on the sinks that it encounters along its journey to the coast, a unit of N could have very different fates, and thus very different impacts on water quality. For instance, a pound of N in one area of the watershed could be transported almost entirely to the coast, while another pound of N, applied just a short distance away, could take a different pathway through the stream network that results in the removal of a significant amount of N via sinks.

“One contribution of N-Sink is that it focuses on critical sink areas like wetlands and riparian corridors, which will hopefully lead to intensified efforts to protect or even restore these areas,”

says Extension Educator Chet Arnold. “Also, since the geographic specificity of N-Sink ties any location in the watershed to its likelihood of contributing N pollution, we think it can be useful both for land use planners when determining future uses, and land owners when discussing management practices on land already in use.”

The CLEAR team has created a state-of-the-art interactive N-Sink application where you can explore the maps for the entire Long Island Sound coast of Connecticut.

Article by Chet Arnold

UConn Environment Corps

Connecting Students to Communities

group of people in orange vests and masks looking at landscapeRiverfront climate resilience. Low impact development practices to reduce stormwater runoff. Brownfields redevelopment grant proposals. Forest resilience planning. The impact of sea level rise on marinas. What do all these things have in common? They are all the focus of projects conducted for Connecticut communities by undergraduates enrolled in the Environment Corps, a new educational model gaining momentum at UConn.

in this ambitious project that combines undergraduate classroom instruction, service learning, and Extension outreach to the benefit of both the students and the communities of Connecticut. The UConn Environment Corps (“E-Corps”), funded by a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation, is designed to get students real world experience in tackling some of today’s most thorny environmental problems as they conduct projects in partnership with town and cities across the state. The project involves an impressive coalition within UConn that includes four schools/colleges, five academic departments, four University centers, and the Provost’s Office.

E-Corps is an outgrowth of the success of the Climate Corps, a three-year pilot project that began in 2016 and is focused on the local impacts of, and responses to, climate change. The Climate Corps is taught by a team of two Extension educators, Juliana Barrett from the Connecticut Sea Grant College Program and Bruce Hyde from the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR). With the Climate Corps, Juliana, Bruce and the extended project team pioneered the E-Corps approach, that combines a semester of interactive classroom work with a second semester of independent study where student teams work on projects designed to assist Connecticut communities.

The Climate Corps was joined by the Brownfield Corps in 2018, developed and taught by Maria Chrysochoou and Nefeli Bompoti of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE). The Brownfields Corps is a key part of the new Connecticut Brownfields Initiative, also led by CEE. Then, with the spring semester of 2020 came the debut of the Stormwater Corps, taught by Extension educators Mike Dietz, Dave Dickson and Chet Arnold from CLEAR. The success of all three courses depends heavily on the relationships built between these faculty members and the communities of Connecticut, enabling the development of student projects that bring real value to the towns and cities partnering with UConn.

The NSF grant has resulted in the expansion of the original team to include other players at UConn. Experts from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) now assist the course instructors on teaching techniques, and researchers from the Neag School of Education are conducting studies on the impact of the E-Corps model on students, faculty, communities, and the University itself. With 244 students and 53 community projects to date, there is already evidence that the project is having impact. In the case of students, the impact may be broader than the team originally conceived. E-Corps was originally designed to target students majoring in Environmental Sciences, Environmental Studies, and Environmental Engineering, but has already attracted students from 15 other majors, including both STEM (e.g., Biological Sciences, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering) and non-STEM (e.g., Economics, English, Political Science, Urban and Community Studies) fields.

One goal of the overall project is to extend the reach of the E-Corps model by making it adaptable to other disciplines at UConn, and eventually to peers at other universities. Much of this will depend upon the team’s ability to fashion a faculty and student support system at UConn that can ensure the sustainability of the model beyond the end of the grant. So, stay tuned!

Article by Chet Arnold

Environmental Conditions Online

Your One Stop Shop for Maps and Geographic Information cteco.uconn.edu

CT ECO website on a computer screenTechnology has expanded the mapping world. No longer are maps static and flat. They are now interactive, zoom able and clickable. They allow focus on a location or a question and enable us to explore our backyard, town, state and world.

The Connecticut Environmental Conditions Online (CT ECO) website has become the de facto place in Connecticut to access statewide interactive maps. Anyone can browse natural resource layers, aerial imagery, elevation and more. In 2019, over 30,000 people explored Connecticut by visiting CT ECO, which is a partnership between Extension faculty from the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) and the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

Because not all (or probably even most) of those 30,000 people are Geographic Information System (GIS) experts, CT ECO is designed to meet the needs of visitors with varying levels of technical expertise. Alongside all of the maps is an extensive amount of complementary information in the form of Data Guides, Help documents and How-to explanations.

The simplest map access is through the Map Catalog, that contains over 9000 pdf maps that cover every town in Connecticut. These same maps can be purchased at the CT DEEP store in Hartford.

There are currently 12 interactive Map Viewers on CT ECO and the list is growing. Popular Viewers include the Simple and Advanced Map Viewers, both of which contain a long list of map layers mostly maintained by CT DEEP. The Elevation Viewer hosts the state’s elevation information in the form of highly detailed ground topography including elevation values as well as hillshade, slope, aspect and 1-foot contours. Also incredibly useful is the Aerial imagery Viewer that contains 12 statewide sets of aerial imagery between 1990 and 2019 along with six coastal and regional datasets.

Project-based viewers are topically focused. The Long Island Sound Blue Plan Viewer is one of the most recent, providing access to the long list of data layers that are part of the Long Island Sound Blue Plan. Other Viewers include Sea Level Rise and Coastal Road Flooding Viewer, the Aquaculture Mapping Atlas, the CT MS4 Viewer that focuses on stormwater and the DEEP Inland Waters Fish Community Data Viewer.

Finally, mapping professionals and enthusiasts can connect to CT ECO map and image “services” within their desktop or online GIS. The Map and Image Services page lists the over 100 available services.

Users, Uses, and Benefits

Responses to a survey conducted regarding the value of CT ECO revealed the breadth of users. They come from private business, state agencies (like Department of Transportation, Department of Economic and Community Development, Department of Safety and Public Protection, Department of Labor, CT DEEP and even the Office of Film, TV & Digital Media), regional and local government, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, utilities, citizens and more.

CT ECO is also used by hikers, landscape architects, land trusts and metal detectorist clubs (who knew?). The wide audience reflects the broad uses of CT ECO, such as preparing site assessments, permit applications and permit review, engineering projects, traffic plans, wetlands applications like identifying vernal pools, review of site conditions, identifying zoning violations, locating addresses, habitat suitability models, trail maps, forestry, coastal resilience, mining archaeology, appraisals, school projects and more.

It is difficult to put a dollar value on the services provided by CT ECO. Certainly having a central, statewide repository for mapping data, limited as it might be, reduces redundancy and increases efficiency. Many respondents from the survey report saving significant amounts of both money and time. Several users estimate saving over $100,000, with others stating that the time saved is “immeasurable.”

A State of Connecticut GIS professional said, “CT ECO has become the default location for accessing GIS data within the State of Connecticut. The work that the CT ECO staff has done to provide this data to the public has been nothing short of extraordinary.” It is exciting that UConn Extension is filling the critical need for so many different users and uses of Connecticut’s geospatial information.

Article by Emily Wilson

Connecting Towns and UConn Students

LID tour on UConn Campus
Climate Corps students tour low impact development on the UConn Storrs campus. Photo: Chet Arnold

UConn received a $2.25 million grant from the National Science Foundation to expand and study a new public engagement program that combines teaching, service learning, and Extension outreach. The program is called the Environment Corps and focuses on using STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills to address important environmental issues like climate adaptation, brownfields remediation, and stormwater management at the municipal level.

Environment Corps combines the familiar elements of classroom instruction, service learning and UConn Extension’s work with communities in a unique way that allows students to develop STEM skills and get “real world” experience as preparation for the work force, while communities receive help in responding to environmental mandates that they often lack the resources to address on their own.

The Environment Corps project is built on an extensive partnership at UConn. It includes faculty from four schools and colleges in five departments: Natural Resources and the Environment, Extension, Geography, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Educational Curriculum and Instruction. In addition, the project involves four university centers, all three environmental major programs, and the Office of the Provost. Learn more about the Environment Corps at clear.uconn.edu.

Article by Chet Arnold

Grant Will Fund Creation of Climate Impacts Video

beach houseAdapt CT, an outreach partnership of Connecticut Sea Grant and the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR), has been awarded a $2,978 grant to fund a student intern to work on a video about climate change in Connecticut. The video is intended primarily for municipal commission members.

The grant is one of 14 awarded to non-profit organizations for environmental projects and programs this month by the Middletown-based Rockfall Foundation. It will fund student salary and mileage costs for the project, set to begin in May and continue for one year.

Part of a new resilience training series created in partnership with PREP-RI, the video will provide current climate change information to help municipal board and commission members as they make decisions at the local level. Both coastal and inland towns as well as areas in and around the Connecticut River will be highlighted in the video to show climate change impacts on local natural resources and infrastructure, according to the Rockfall Foundation.

Read more…

CLEAR Mini-webinar Series

In a small attempt at lessening the pain of social distancing, CLEAR has been hosting a “mini-webinar” series since late March. There are two 30-minute webinars per week, on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. So far, we’ve held 5 and had almost 500 people in attendance. The webinars are also taped and posted on the website.

We have just announced the second wave of webinars, bringing the total to 12 and taking the series through the end of April. And, while our first set was conducted primarily by CLEAR faculty, our second set is comprised of a wide variety of topics from a diverse set of partners.

Folks can check out the series at:

http://clear.uconn.edu/webinars/schedule.htm