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Article Published September 1, 2021

UConn Students, Faculty Help Deep River with Green Alternatives

By Elizabeth Reinhart/Zip06.com

With a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), a team of professors and students from the University of Connecticut (UConn) are helping five Connecticut towns—Branford, Clinton, Deep River, Guilford, and Madison—with a plan to reduce stormwater runoff.

In developed areas, such as town centers, where there is a lot of impenetrable ground cover like asphalt and concrete, rain runs off the surfaces and into storm drains, eventually being deposited into waterways like rivers, streams, lakes and eventually the ocean.

If the runoff picks up pollutants as it travels over these surfaces, it can impact water quality and negatively affect aquatic ecosystems.

Michael Dietz, a water resources extension educator in the Department of Natural Resources & the Environment at UConn, is leading the project.

Dietz said that the team’s findings, which have been presented to Deep River and formalized in a final report, will be an important planning tool as the towns meet new requirements from the state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) in the management of its stormwater.

“There are some stormwater regulations that require the towns to disconnect some of this impervious cover and these reports will assist the towns in picking out the best areas to do this and the types of practices that would best be installed in those areas,” said Dietz.

In Deep River, five municipal properties were identified as suitable for the installation of what Dietz and his team define as “green stormwater infrastructure.”

This infrastructure, which includes rain gardens, permeable paving, and green roofs, stops rainwater where it falls and allows for its absorption into the soil, as would occur in a more natural environment.

Although this infrastructure is serving an important purpose, to absorb stormwater, another objective is beautification.

“The goal is to serve this dual purpose, to be able to treat and infiltrate stormwater, but also to look nice and be an amenity to the site,” said Dietz.

Raingardens are a good example of this. Certain native plants that are typically found outside of wetlands and can tolerate both wet and dry conditions are chosen for raingardens, he said, as are flowering plants that provide an attractive visual throughout the seasons.

In addition to the long-term planning benefits of the project for municipalities, the NFWF grant funds can be used for the installation of green infrastructure in Deep River.

“In the short-term, we have money written into this grant to actually do some implementation, not specifically to meet the regulation, but there is funding for each town participating to implement one or more of these projects,” said Dietz.

In Deep River, the project would be implemented at one of the five properties identified by Dietz and his team: Deep River Public Library, Valley Regional High School, John Winthrop Middle School, Deep River Elementary School, or Deep River Town Hall.

Once town officials decide on a location, engineering students at UConn will develop a formal design plan to obtain a cost estimate from a contractor, with the possibility of finishing the project this fall, or next summer.

“If all went well, we could possibly get one of these into the ground later in the fall, but we’re more likely looking at next spring and early next summer,” said Dietz.

First Selectman Angus McDonald said the project complements Deep River’s existing efforts in managing its stormwater to comply with requirements from the DEEP, known as the MS4 general permit program.

“This is a really great addition to our MS4 program that we’re already involved in, and have been doing for quite a while,” said McDonald, at an Aug. 24 Board of Selectmen meeting. “The stormwater runoff plan that they have presented to me and everyone, it looks very interesting.

“I think it’s great for the town to start to do some of this…on public properties, so we can show everyone that this is where, really, the municipalities should go, but the private property owners should go as well,” he continued.