UConn CLEAR

Updated App, New Rules & Soggy Summer: Time For a Rain Garden

rain garden
Coneflower and blazing star are in bloom in the rain garden behind the baseball field at East Lyme High School.

Story and photos by Judy Benson

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.

Sue Augustyniak built this rain garden on the property of of the William A. Buckingham Memorial as her service project for the Coastal Certificate Program.
Sue Augustyniak built this rain garden on the property of of the William A. Buckingham Memorial as her service project for the Coastal Certificate Program.

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?

David Dickson spots a skipper butterfly and several bees pollinating on the flowers in the rain garden at East Lyme High School on July 12.
David Dickson spots a skipper butterfly and several bees pollinating on the flowers in the rain garden at East Lyme High School on July 12.

That’s where the newly refurbished rain 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.”

The free rain garden app can be found at: https://nemo.uconn.edu/tools/app/raingarden.htm.

Judy Benson is the communications coordinator for Connecticut Sea Grant. 

UConn CLEAR Stormwater Pond Retrofit Workshop

Swan LakeUConn CLEAR is holding a Stormwater Pond Retrofit Workshop that will demonstrate how to retrofit existing dry and wet stormwater ponds and bioretention areas to allow for infiltration and/or better pollutant removal. The workshop will be presented by nationally-known expert Dr. Bill Hunt from North Carolina State University on Monday, July 26, 2021, from 9 am to 3 pm at the Mystic Marriott Hotel in Groton, CT.
 The workshop will cover:
– Introduction and retrofit motivations
– Retrofitting dry ponds for volume reduction & pollutant removal
– Retrofitting bioretention for volume reduction & nitrogen removal
– Retrofitting wet ponds for pathogen & nutrient removal
– Field sessions on retrofitting existing structures 
 
Workshop description: The Stormwater Control Measures (SCMs) we design today are not the same as the Stormwater BMPs we placed in the ground 20 years ago. As such, lots of our older SCM infrastructure is dated and can be made to work better with simple retrofits. The motivations and types of SCM retrofits will be discussed, with a focus on dry detention, wet detention, and bioretention. The audience will learn that simple, cost-effective retrofits have the potential to greatly improve an SCM’s performance without increasing maintenance costs. In the afternoon we’ll be visiting several sites in the field.
 
REGISTRATION is $25 and covers coffee and lunch
Note: This will be an in-person workshop and attendance will be capped to maintain appropriate social distancing!

This program is part of the CLEAR MS4 Support Program, funded by CT DEEP.

Register at s.uconn.edu/registerclear

Socially-Distanced Community Conservation Partnerships

Over the past four years, the University of Connecticut Conservation Training Partnerships program has engaged more than 220 high school students and adult volunteers in applying innovative geospatial technology to address real-world conservation issues, resulting in over 70 local environmental projects throughout the state. Due to COVID-19, the program transitioned to an online format this past year.

The UConn Conservation Training Partnerships team, Nicole Freidenfelds from the UConn Natural Resources Conservation Academy, Laura Cisneros, Dave Dickson, and Cary Chadwick of our UConn CLEAR program, members from the UConn Natural Resources & the Environment department and the UConn Neag School of Education, created a presentation on the program’s transition to virtual instruction.

The presentation, “Socially-Distanced Community Conservation Partnerships”, won Facilitators’ Choice at the 2021 STEM for All Video Showcase.

Congratulations UConn CTP Team!

Click here to watch the presentation.

UConn CLEAR Webinars in May

WEDNESDAY, May 12, 2021 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
Experimenting with Climate-Adaptive Forestry Practices: Challenges and Opportunities
Christopher Riely, Sweet Birch Consulting, LLC
Following a brief overview of general forest climate adaptation strategies, this talk will present one experimental project begun in Scituate, Rhode Island, in 2015, when Mr. Riely helped manage 13,000 acres of forestland buffering the reservoirs for Rhode Island’s largest water utility. Site work included planting both native tree seedlings and non-native species projected to be adapted to future climate conditions, such as shortleaf pine and sweetgum. To assess deer impacts on one site, half the seedlings were planted inside a large exclosure fence. While foresters monitor early results, the project has provided significant educational value through engaging public audiences and a professional community of practice. This webinar is the 3rd of the series Finding the Right Trees for the Right Time, sponsored by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.

REGISTER

WEDNESDAY, May 19, 2021 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
Building Capacity for Conservation: Engaging Local Teens
Nicole Friedenfelds and Amy Cabaniss, Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA), UConn Dept. of Natural Resources and the Environment
Have a great idea for a conservation project in your community or land trust, but not sure you have the staff power, technical know-how, or energy to carry it out? Wouldn’t it be great to connect with local youth in that effort? Tune in to this webinar to learn how the UConn Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA) is engaging high school students in wildlife monitoring, water quality, promoting pollinators, outdoor recreation, and other environmental projects in communities throughout Connecticut. NRCA faculty will share insights on ways to build capacity for your organization through youth engagement. Through this webinar, you’ll learn about tangible projects that can help address local environmental needs and hear directly from teen and adult participants about their experiences in UConn NRCA programs and the community actions they carried out.

REGISTER

WEDNESDAY, May 26, 2021 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
Introducing Connecticut Trail Finder
Kimberly Bradley, UConn Department of Extension and Trails Program Coordinator, PATHS (People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability) Team
The State of Connecticut has a vast number of open space and outdoor recreational opportunities, however information for trail users can be inconsistent, inaccurate, and difficult to find. The Connecticut Trail Finder, currently in development through UConn Extension, will be a free, interactive mapping website designed to help Connecticut residents and visitors explore trail and outdoor recreation opportunities, trailside services, and events across the state. Connecticut Trail Finder will compile trail manager approved trails with the goals of becoming the primary trails data source for the State of Connecticut and connecting users with trail management organizations and resources. This webinar will provide an overview of the resource to trail users, exploring the current and developing features of the website, and provide information for trail and land managers on how you can add your trail systems to the Connecticut Trail Finder.  The Connecticut Trail Finder is funded through generous support from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation.

REGISTER

CLEAR Webinars In April

aerial view of Connecticut River and agricultural fieldsWEDNESDAY, April 21, 2021 1:00 PM – 1:30 PM
Chet Arnold, UConn Dept. of Extension & CLEAR
Qian Lei-Parent, UConn Dept of Extension & CLEAR
Land use planners, property owners, and watershed managers need all the help that they can get to reduce the impacts of nitrogen (N) pollution on waterways, particularly in coastal areas. CLEAR, URI and EPA have developed an online tool, N-Sink, that provides some of this help. N-Sink identifies areas within a watershed that are likely to contribute N to coastal waters, and other areas that are likely to remove N from the system before it gets to the coast. The tool now covers all of the coastal watersheds of Connecticut and Rhode Island. This 30-minute webinar will describe the workings behind the tool, demonstrate the new N-Sink web app, and initiate a discussion on ways that the information might be used.
city street in Connecticut
Photo: CEDAS

WEDNESDAY, April 28, 2021 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM

Laura Brown, Community & Economic Development Educator, UConn Extension
Sadie Colcord, Associate Director of Partnerships, AdvanceCT
Kristen Gorski, Economic Development Coordinator, Town of West Hartford, and President, CT Economic Development Association (CEDAS)
Many communities struggle to find a comfortable balance between the desires of the business community, the desires of residents, and the requirements of existing zoning regulations and regulatory processes. In this session, the presenters will offer suggestions for finding this balance by exploring topics including: the role of economic development in the local land-use regulatory process; what companies are really looking for in a community; ensuring your community is ready for a desired development project; why and how to say no to a development proposal; and how to strike the right balance between zoning enforcement (which sometimes means saying no to business) while simultaneously encouraging the right kind of projects for your community. Attendees will learn about the Best Practices in Land Use and Economic Development Program, created by the Connecticut Economic Development Association and the Connecticut Chapter of the American Planning Association, and how to utilize the program as a tool for balancing economic development and planning.

CLEAR Webinar: The NEMO Rain Garden App – Reborn!

CLEAR mini webinar seriesWEDNESDAY, March 24, 2021 1:00 PM – 1:30 PM

Dave Dickson, UConn Extension and CLEAR
Nearly eight years ago, CLEAR’s NEMO program first launched an app to help homeowners, landscapers, developers, and municipalities properly site, size, install, and maintain a rain garden to help protect their water resources. The app has since expanded to include state-specific rain garden sizing and plant information for 25 states. Now, the app has received a new update that will allow it to work on ANY device with a web browser – PC, tablet, iPhone, or even an Android phone! This webinar will cover how the app works, how you can access it, and how you can use it for public outreach.

Click here to register.

Making Maple Syrup in Your Own Back Yard CLEAR Webinar

maple syrup
Photo by Nadine Primeau on Unsplash

As winter winds down, and you’re considering outdoor, low-risk activities, making a small batch of maple syrup at home with your family might be a fun and healthy choice. This webinar will provide all the essential information you’ll need to get started, from identifying which of your trees might be sugar maples, to tapping, boiling and finishing the sweet product for use on your favorite pancake recipe. Extension Forester Tom Worthley will take you through the process and share some tricks he has learned.

Join our webinar on Wednesday, March 3rd at 1 PM to learn more.

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

 

UConn CLEAR Webinars in February

Registration is open for all three February webinars!

CLEAR mini webinar series
Wednesday, February 10, 1:00 – 1:30 PM
Long Island Sound Report Card: Grading the Urban Sea
Peter Linderoth, Save the Sound
What is this map telling us? Join Peter Linderoth from Save the Sound as he discusses the latest release of the Long Island Sound Report Card. The Report Card grades the ecological health of the open waters of the Sound in addition to numerous embayments. Peter will present an overview of the water quality data sources, grading process, and then dive into the grades and general findings.
Wednesday, February 17, 1:00 – 1:30 PM
Using the New CT Zoning Atlas to Envision CT’s Transit-Oriented Development Potential
Sara Bronin, UConn Law School & Cary Chadwick, UConn CLEAR
In January,Desegregate CT, a coalition of over 60 organizations focused on land use and zoning reform, released its groundbreaking interactive map, the Connecticut Zoning Atlas. This first-in-the-nation planning tool allows the public to easily explore zoning regulations that govern housing in each of the state’s 2,618 zoning districts and two subdivision districts without having to sift through and decode thousands of pages of written code. This webinar will focus on one particular aspect of the Zoning Atlas: the areas within a half-mile of train stations and CT fastrak stations. It will start with a broad overview of Desegregate CT and its platform as it relates to TOD, and it will show how you can use the Atlas to assess how your community already permits TOD. The webinar will conclude with some information about the Desegregate CT’s TOD proposals and how they have worked in other states, including neighboring Massachusetts.
Wednesday, February 24, 1:00 – 2:00 PM
Why Connecticut Needs GIS Coordination
Emily Wilson, UConn CLEAR
Learn about how GIS is done in Connecticut, how we compare to our New England neighbors, and what might be done to make GIS operations more efficient and effective.

As seas rise, communities can turn retreat into opportunity

Kristin Walker, project engineer for the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, explains how the former home site is now being planted with native species to create a flood plain habitat.
Kristin Walker, project engineer for the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, explains on Oct. 22 how the former home site is now being planted with native species to create a flood plain habitat.

Story and photos by Judy Benson

Retreat isn’t defeat.

It’s deliberately stepping back to make a better future.

“Retreat is very difficult, but it’s going to happen,” said A.R. Siders, assistant professor in the Biden School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware. “Wouldn’t it be better to have a managed process? It can be an opportunity to do something more exciting than elevating a few houses, and there are resources available.”

A national expert and keynote speaker at the “Managed Retreat in the Age of Climate Change” virtual workshop on Nov. 13, Siders challenged the audience of about 130 municipal and state land-use officials and others to rethink notions of what’s possible. Rising seas and more frequent flooding of coastal and riverine areas means getting people out of harm’s way is necessary, she said. But can also be a chance to improve our waterfronts for everyone.

Siders said she began focusing on how retreat can be done in an orderly, methodical way—rather than as a haphazard reaction to a disaster—after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. It’s the better alternative to the other options: avoidance, fortifying shorelines with concrete or accommodating rising seas by elevating properties, she said.

To begin the hard conversation with communities, Siders urged land use professionals to pose it as challenge to realize a positive vision for the future: “What do you want your city or community or coast to look like in 30 years? 100 years?

“I don’t want to see a coast that’s armored with sea walls, but I would love to see open beaches all the way from Maine to Texas, so everyone can access them. It won’t happen if we don’t plan for retreat,” she said.

The workshop was the latest in a series hosted by the Climate Adaptation Academy, a partnership of Connecticut Sea Grant and The Center for Land Use Education & Research (UConn CLEAR). Juliana Barrett, CT Sea Grant coastal habitat specialist, and fellow organizer Bruce Hyde, extension educator with CLEAR, emphasized that this workshop is considered the first in a series on managed retreat that will delve into this complex and important issue.

“We see this as just getting the conversation going,” said Barrett.

Hyde set the stage for the presentations with a story and slides from Connecticut’s past. After the 1938 hurricane destroyed a beachfront community in New London, the city acquired the property, razed what remained of the homes and turned it into a large public beach. Today Ocean Beach Park is one of the city’s jewels.

“This is an example of using managed retreat 60 years ago and it has been very successful,” he said.

Siders also noted that there have been more recent examples of successful managed retreat projects across the country, including 12 in Connecticut. Most of these have been small scale, however. At the same time, though, new homes are still being built in vulnerable areas. In Connecticut alone, she said, 478 new homes were built from 2010 to 2017 in a 10-year flood plain.

In the second half of her talk, Siders outlined the multiple issues that arise and kinds of expertise needed to carry out managed retreat. Planners must be mindful of income equity issues—not favoring high income over low income properties, for example—the layers of regulatory and financial considerations/ Also critical, she said, is keeping the process transparent and communication lines open between residents and government. Offering financial incentives, help with finding new homes and working through nonprofit groups to build trust are some of the strategies that might be used, she said.

After Siders, Attorney Marjorie Shansky addressed the legal issues of managed retreat. “Can we adapt policies and regulations to promote managed retreat?” she asked.

These could include mechanisms that favor living shorelines over shoreline hardening, enacting stricter coastal setbacks and buffers and limiting and prohibiting coastal development altogether. She noted that the Florida Keys will no longer issue new building permits after 2023.

Starting the discussion about reimaging a local coastline where people aren’t constantly in a futile fight with rising waters is a good first step, she said. But communities need to start doing more.

“We must move from planning to action,” Shansky said.

Two examples of that kind of action offered inspiration for what can be accomplished. In downtown Meriden, a $13 million project funded by various state and federal agencies has transformed a blighted, flood-prone area into a municipal park. Public Works Director Howard Weissberg, City Engineer Brian Ennis and Assistant Planning Director Paul Dickson took turns describing various aspects of what one of them described as “a flood control site first, a park second, and an economic development parcel third.”

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