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About the CALCAP Project

The Coastal Area Land Cover Change Analysis Project (CALCAP) Project will provide an improved understanding how and where development within Connecticut's coastal area and lower Connecticut River towns may be affecting coastal Connecticut's most significant ecological and coastal recreation areas (SECRAs). Examples of such areas include rare habitat coves of the lower Connecticut River with rare species habitat and major coastal recreation destinations such as Hammonasset Beach State Park. The information to be developed will be delivered in a format that will be helpful to managers responsible for developing strategies to address threats to Connecticut's most critical coastal areas originating from development activities outside the boundaries of existing protected open space.

Objectives:

  1. Quantify 2002 land cover and 1985-2002 land cover change for within the Connecticut's coastal boundary of Connecticut.

  2. For each local watershed intersecting the coastal boundary, estimate the percent of impervious surface and quantify the amount and percent of development.

  3. Identify coastal management protection planning "regions of interest" based upon spatial relationships between locations of "significant ecological and coastal recreation areas" (SECRAs) and unprotected parcels identified by the DEP's Coastal Land Assessment Methodology (CLAM) project as having potentially significant conservation value.

  4. Conduct detailed characterization of land cover within SECRA "regions of interest," using high resolution, airborne, color imagery.

Coastal Management Implications

The land cover data reinforce the reality that Connecticut's coastline is largely an urban one. Connecticut's coastal towns are about 50% more developed than the state average and the area within Connecticut's coastal boundary (defined by a line 1,000 feet inland of coastal waters, tidal wetlands or the inland extent of the 100-year frequency coastal flood, whichever if further inland) is more than twice as developed as the state average. Much of this development is pre-1985, and reflects the "urban sea" era of Long Island Sound during the first half of the 20th century, when much of the coastline west of New Haven was used for commercial and industrial purposes.

The land cover change data show where development pressure has occurred in recent decades. Although the absolute amount of new developed land is not overwhelming (2.6% of the total project area), the percent change in development identifies the eastern shoreline as a "hot spot" of development pressure. Coastal towns east of New Haven (including six additional Connecticut River towns within Connecticut's Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program project area), experienced an average 15% increase in development between 1985 and 2002. This increase is mostly due to residential development.

The impervious cover modeling shows that while few changes have occurred along the highly developed western shoreline, coastal watersheds farther east are experiencing increases in impervious cover that the national research base indicates will initiate water quantity and quality impacts. The major increases in impervious cover naturally correlate with the increases in developed land, with the biggest increases in the towns from Madison east to the Rhode Island border. During the 17-year study period, a large number of local watersheds crossed the 10% threshold that studies suggest signals the onset of stream degradation. There are very few local coastal watersheds within the coastal boundary that are still under the 10% impervious cover threshold, and all of these are located from Guilford east. Fewer than 10 watersheds have impervious cover levels less that 5%, and most of these are located in Stonington, with a few in Guilford and Old Lyme.

Management implications suggest a distinctly different "East-West" coastal resource protection strategy built upon these landscape data and trends. Along the western shoreline, management must focus on remediation and restoration, seizing opportunities during redevelopment to enact strategies such as "low impact development," urban stream corridor restoration, and connecting existing open space parcels to the extent possible. The high resolution imagery-based land cover maps of the Lower Quinnipiac River region of interest highlight the challenges of working in this urban environment. East of New Haven, more opportunities exist for proactive strategies such as land acquisition, local land use regulation protective of coastal resources, and most important, natural resource-based local land use planning that maximizes protected natural lands and reduces the impacts of new development. The Lower Connecticut River region of interest maps illustrate that such landscapes still exist and that where such opportunities still exist, they should be acted upon. Information of the type generated by this study informs state agencies concerned with managing the coast.

Generally, when the data presented here are shared with coastal community decision-makers and other groups, it can become a powerful stimulant to a wide range of local actions that can help to better protect Connecticut's coastal resources.

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