UConn CLEAR

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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Meet Will Carta: CLEAR Intern

Will CartaMy name is Will Carta and I am interning with CLEAR through UConn CAHNR Extension. I am going to be a senior at UConn and I am majoring in Natural Resources with a concentration in Water Resources and Climate. Before transferring to UConn I spent two and a half years at Manchester Community College. I love fitness, fishing, and playing basketball with friends whenever I get the chance. I am currently working on updating CLEAR’s “State of Low Impact Development in Connecticut“ story map. Many of the links to various regulations throughout this story map are out of date, which I am in the process of updating. I have found that many of the towns that did not have a specific document for their Stormwater Management Plan when the story map was first created, now have one. This is great to see because it shows that more and more towns in Connecticut are acknowledging the importance of Stormwater Management as well as Low Impact Development and putting out regulations to deal with it. Along with the LID Story map, I will also be working on updating UConn’s Virtual Green Stormwater Infrastructure Campus Tour. This virtual tour highlights the University’s leadership role in addressing the impacts of stormwater runoff on water quality.

Learn more about the State of Low Impact Development in Connecticut at http://s.uconn.edu/stateoflid and the Virtual Green Stormwater Infrastructure Campus Tour at http://s.uconn.edu/gsitour

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

CLEAR Mini-webinar Series

CLEAR mini webinar seriesIn 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

Free Environmental Webinar Series from UConn CLEAR

social distancing
The UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research is offering free webinars. Here is the schedule for the next three weeks:
 
WEDNESDAY MARCH 25, 2020 1:30 PM – 2:00 PM
UConn Environment Corps: Harnessing Student Power to Help Towns
Chet Arnold, CLEAR Director
THURSDAY MARCH 26, 2020 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM
Emergency Changes to the Land Use Process in the COVID-19 Era
Sara C. Bronin
Thomas F. Gallivan Chair of Real Property Law, UConn Law School
Chair, Hartford Planning Commission
 
MONDAY MARCH 30, 2020 1:30 PM – 2:00 PM
Collaboratives & Utilities: New Options for Municipal Stormwater Management
Amanda Ryan, CLEAR MS4 Extension Educator
 
WEDNESDAY APRIL 1, 2020 1:30 PM – 2:00 PM
Moving with the Marshes
Juliana Barrett, Coastal Resources Extension Educator, CT Sea Grant
 
MONDAY APRIL 6, 2020 1:30 PM – 2:00 PM
From Maps to Apps: Accessible Tech for field scientists and citizen scientists alike
Cary Chadwick, CLEAR Geospatial Extension Educator
 
WEDNESDAY APRIL 8, 2020 1:30 PM – 2:00 PM
Statewide Lidar Elevation Points in Interactive, Color 3D!!
Emily Wilson, CLEAR Geospatial Extension Educator
 
Registration:
 
 
 
 

MS4 Work from UConn CLEAR Featured

February cover of Interstate Waters newsletter

The latest issue of Interstate Waters from New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC) arrived, and the MS4 support program for communities from the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research are the cover story. Read the full issue: http://bit.ly/InterstateWaters

#UConnImpact #UConnExtension

Is your water safe to drink?

Posted on December 23, 2019 by Michael Dietz

If you are like most people, as long as water comes out of the tap, you don’t give it much thought. If your water is supplied by a water company, stringent testing is required by law, and you will periodically receive results of the testing. If you are one of the 40% of Connecticut residents who has a private well, the last time you had that water tested was likely when it was built (you can’t move in unless your well water meets certain criteria), or when you purchased it (if you have a mortgage, the bank will often require testing to make sure you have a safe water supply).

Older homes had shallow wells which drew from groundwater close to the surface. These wells are vulnerable to contamination from surface sources. Newer homes have wells that are drilled into the bedrock, and may be hundreds of feet deep. However, even deep wells can become contaminated from surface sources such as nearby septic systems, road salt, leaks from gas stations, or agricultural activities. Other contaminants such as radon, uranium and arsenic are naturally occurring in some parts of Connecticut.

The best way to protect you and your family from possible contamination is to test your water at one of the state’s certified testing labs. For an extra fee they will come to your home and collect the sample for you, or they will give you instructions on how to collect the sample. The Connecticut Department of Public Health has more information about private well testing. A basic potability test will cover a variety of contaminants including nitrate, sodium, chloride, and bacteria. If you leave near an agricultural area, you may also want to test for pesticides.

It is easy to take our water for granted. Keep your family safe and get your water tested!

Gregory Desautels: Reflection on my Extension Internship

Gregory Desautels interned with Dr. Mike Dietz of UConn Extension in the summer of 2019, working with Dr. Dietz on projects for UConn CLEAR. Gregory has continued working with Dr. Dietz on projects funded by Connecticut Sea Grant during the fall 2019 semester. In the article below, Gregory reflected on his summer internship.

Greg standing behind wooden tables during a summer project for his internship
Greg Desautels during his summer 2019 Extension internship. Photo: Mike Dietz

Through my summer as an Extension intern at the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR), I learned skills and had experiences, which may shape my future.  I learned technical skills, working in GIS programs such as Arc Pro and AGOL, as well as Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets. I improved my organizational skills, learning how to manage multiple iterations and edits of data files so they could be referenced in the future.  I learned how to work independently and improved my problem solving while working on projects that were challenging, and sometimes over my head. Finally, I was able to practice communicating with coworkers and supervisors.

The technical skills that I developed this summer were one of the most valuable parts of this experience. Through projects such as the Shellfishing Atlas and Campus LID Map, I had to use many of the skills developed in my previous GIS classes. Furthermore, these projects required me to work outside the confines of my previous experiences and to learn new skills, often by reading tutorials and self-teaching. In programs such as Excel, which I had previously considered myself adept, I found that there was still a lot to learn, and hands on experience was the best way to do so. I consider these experiences valuable not only for the skills learned, but also in learning how to teach myself. In my career, I expect there will be times when I do not know how to solve a problem and I will need to use all the resources available to learn how to solve it.

Organizational skills, specifically in reference to managing files for GIS were one of the most practical skills that I developed. Through my own processes of trial and error, as well as through new iterations becoming available, I was often left with multiple seemingly identical files with small but vital differences. My previous nomenclature wasn’t sufficient to keep track of all these files, however several of my coworkers taught me how to build and manage file databases. This has allowed for a cleaner workflow and the ability to backtrack and reference previous steps, both important skills when working in GIS.

This internship was also a valuable experience in communication. In communicating with coworkers, supervisors

Greg using an electric screw driver to place legs on tables
Photo: Mike Dietz

and faculty members, I learned to adapt my communications to them. As someone who defaults to excessive formality, I often had to tone back and learn how to match someone else’s level. I found that the formal “Thank You, double space, sincerely, double space, signature” format lauded by schools is not always practical or necessary and that being overly formal can actually hinder clear communication.

In terms of my career goals, I don’t feel that this summer has wildly altered my trajectory, however I do feel that I have a better understanding of what to expect. Seeing the “behind the scenes” work related to securing grants and funding, as well as how this office fits into the larger body of UConn has been eye-opening. This internship was valuable in more ways that I can say, and I am confident that as I progress through my career, I will find many more instances where this experience has helped me.

Article by Gregory Desautels, CLEAR Intern Reflection

Land Use Academy Advanced Training

Bruce Hyde presenting at Land Use Academy
Bruce Hyde presenting at Land Use Academy.

The Land Use Academy is offering an Advanced Training session on October 26, 2019. Registration at 8:30. Training from 9:00 AM-3:30 PM at the Middlesex County Extension Office in Haddam, CT.  The  topics covered are listed below. Cost is $45 and includes continental breakfast, lunch and course materials. 

Follow the registration link at the bottom to register online or to obtain a registration form.  We hope to see you in October!
Advanced Training
In response to feedback from both professional planners and land use commissioners, we are offering an all-day advanced training covering three topics in-depth.

For more information visit the Academy website.
ADVANCED TRAINING TOPICS COVERED:
  
Bias, Predisposition and Conflicts
Atty Richard Roberts, Halloran and Sage
Implementing and Enforcing Land Use Decisions
Atty Kenneth Slater, Halloran and Sage
Running a Meeting and Making the Decision
Atty Mark Branse, Halloran and Sage
4.5 AICP CM Credits Pending
For More Information click on the Academy link to the left.
 Click the below to register