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Connecticut's leafy residential landscape found to be factor in extended power outages

By Judy Benson

Publication: The Day

Published June 19. 2012 4:00AM
Extended power outages linked to residents' embrace of 'wildland-urban interface'

Connecticut's unique residential development patterns made the state more vulnerable to extended power outages and other impacts from Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm.

That was one of the findings in the state Council on Environmental Quality annual report on the condition of Connecticut's environment, released earlier this month. The report concludes that in 2011, the level of impact of the storms was largely attributable to the extent of "wildland-urban interface" in the state, a term that refers to housing density compared to the percentage of wild vegetation per acre.

About 72 percent of state residents - higher than any other state - live in proximity to forests, wetlands and grasslands than any other state, the report found, and that fact accounted for the vastness of the power outages after the two storms, the report said.

"Outside the central cities, Connecticut residents live among trees and appear to embrace such a lifestyle," the report said, noting data showing that wildlife-associated recreation is enjoyed by a higher percentage of state residents than the national average.

Tropical Storm Irene also revealed how development patterns can affect Long Island Sound, when tons of sediment washed off the land into the Connecticut River, which flow into the estuary. The storm also forced the closure of several beaches in the state due to contaminated runoff, raw sewage overflows and debris.

"Control of polluted runoff from streets, parking lots and lawns is the next challenge if the goal of clean water is to be achieved," the report said.

After the October snowstorm, the widespread use of generators, wood stoves and fireplaces increased air pollutants, enough so that the pollution levels for the whole year were slightly higher than in 2010. The increase ended a five-year trend of decreasing air pollution levels.

But while the amount of polluting particulates, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone and nitrogen dioxide increased for the year, the number of individual days with good air quality overall grew by eight days over 2010, to 342 days. Two towns - Groton and Westbrook - had one more bad ozone day than the rest of the state, with nine days each.

Among other findings of the report:

? A total of 2,175 acres of open space were added by the state, private land trusts and other groups to the state's preserved lands, but the state still lacks an accurate state inventory of conservation land.

That issue was also addressed Friday, when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a new law requiring the state to devise a formal strategy for protecting open space and achieving a 21 percent goal established in a previously approved state law.

? A total of 1,975 acres from 16 farms were preserved in 2011, the best year since 1993 and close to the 2,000-acre per year annual rate needed to reach the state's goal, the report said.

? Municipalities permitted the disturbance of about 70 acres of wetlands in 2011, the lowest in four years. While this is a positive indicator, the report said, the state is still lagging on having at least one staff or wetlands commission member from each municipality complete a comprehensive wetlands training program.

? Fifty-two pairs of piping plovers, a threatened species, nested on the state's beaches in 2011, nine more than in 2010.

? About half the fish species in Long Island Sound are increasing, but results from trawl surveys show the lobster population is at the lowest level ever recorded.

? Two other indicators showed water quality in Long Island Sound declined slightly in 2011. The amount of nitrogen dumped into Long Island Sound increased, coming mainly from lawn fertilizer that runs off after a rainfall. Nitrogen stimulates the growth of algae that die and are consumed by bacteria that use oxygen. Oxygen levels in the sound declined, leading to a condition found mainly in the western Sound called hypoxia, when oxygen levels are too low to support marine life.

? Residents continued a multiyear trend of using their cars less and using bus transportation more often. Residents used slightly less electricity in their homes than in 2010.

? Of the 944 violations of environmental permits found by state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in 2011, most were issued for small companies related to activities involving the storage, transport and distribution of petroleum products. Gas stations and convenience stores were the most frequent offenders.

j.benson@theday.com

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