December 14, 2016
Conservation ethic today important for tomorrow
Protecting the water we’ll need for the 15 million additional residents projected to live here in 50 years calls for us to start right now by getting today’s 20 million Floridians on board with a conservation ethic.
That’s why we believe the gifted nature photographer and defender of springs John Moran performs an important public service in highlighting the importance of water in Florida (“Fertilizing, watering wrong for lawns,” Nov. 29).
We need people with his passion and his talent for communicating, whether through his images or his contributions to the Sun. Although UF/IFAS leads the way on water science in Florida, we do not have a monopoly on the topic.
UF/IFAS is on the cutting edge of water-saving science with technologies such as phone apps and high tech irrigation controllers that tap into soil moisture data and weather forecasts to tell people when to water, and, equally importantly, when not to. They can cut your water usage by 20 percent without browning your lawn.
We have UF/IFAS Extension agents in every county to familiarize homeowners and growers with these kinds of tools. These agents also work with builders and developers, a number of whom are building these technologies into their new communities. And they work with homeowners’ associations to educate them about water-conserving practices and to encourage them to adopt new ideas. If all new homes followed suit, we estimate that we’d save 1.8 billion gallons a year – enough to provide 30,000 homes in Florida with water for a year of indoor consumption.
The UF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology, which I lead, provides easy-to-understand information on wise water use through its Florida-Friendly Landscaping ™ program that serves all Floridians. Some, like Moran, choose no water or fertilizer for their landscapes. Others are obligated to maintain their landscapes by the rules of homeowners’ associations.
We’re not in the business of telling people to have a lawn or not. Instead, using the best available science, we inform all kinds of property owners who want to know how much to water and to fertilize. It’s powerful information because it can demonstrate how natural resource protection and financial savings often go hand in hand.
UF/IFAS has recently invested in making further progress in Florida by hiring five regional specialized water Extension agents, each based in one of the five state water management districts. These agents will communicate science to water users of all kinds. In addition, UF/IFAS is hiring four faculty to join a team in what we call environmentally resilient, resource-efficient land use. This team will focus on further understanding patterns of water use and water quality threats from development and seek ways to address those threats.
The public hungers – dare I say “thirsts?” – for such information. Recently, a UF/IFAS survey indicated that residents would like more information on how to conserve water and that they would respond to incentives such as rebates to adopt new technologies such as smart irrigation controllers.
Getting this information out will be critical to protecting the natural resources that make Florida such a special place.
Moran’s opinion is that “…we’d do just fine without lawn sprinklers and fertilizer. And Florida would be a better place.” Yet many others enjoy gardening that requires irrigated landscapes. Much of the development in recent decades has occurred through subdivisions with homeowners’ associations where landscaping is required.
UF/IFAS does not make public policy. We believe an educated public is the most direct path to positive change. We appreciate the efforts of Moran and other activists who seek to influence public policy, because their efforts can give our science a boost by raising awareness about a resource that can go unnoticed until a crisis such as an algae bloom.
Michael Dukes is a professor in the UF/IFAS Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and the director of the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology.