On Earth Day, UF Researchers Say Conserve Water Now or Pay the Price Later

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida residents are using more and more water every day, leaving future Floridians with more expensive options to meet anticipated needs, according to University of Florida researchers. Earth Day, April 22, is a great time to start conserving water.

“Water is a natural resource, and if we don’t take care of it we will really struggle to leave something for our future generations,” said Jim Fletcher, a UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension regional specialized agent. Fletcher works with the Central Florida Water Initiative, a group comprised of UF/IFAS faculty, three water management districts, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The biggest challenge, Fletcher said, is that water consumption may soon outpace availability. For example, residents in five counties—Lake, Orange, Seminole, Polk and Osceola—use about 650 million gallons a day of water. Engineers have determined that we can draw 850 million gallons of water from the Floridan Aquifer, where water is pulled from, without damaging the natural system.

Permits for allocated water account for 1.1 billion gallons of water a day by 2035. “With population growth and the use of water increasing daily, we will reach that limit sooner rather than later,” Fletcher said. “We have to come up with 250 million gallons of water a day by 2035 that we don’t have. This group is identifying strategies to meet that need, and one of the best ways is to conserve water now. It’s the cheapest way to get there.”

Floridians use 50 percent of all drinkable water on their lawns. Another source where water can be saved is by repairing residential leaky pipes, said Mark Hostetler, UF/IFAS professor in the department of wildlife ecology and conservation.

“Most of our water that we use in the home and for landscapes is all potable water, we can drink it. But, we use half of all drinkable water to irrigate our lawns,” Hostetler said. “We are getting less and less potable water in the state, so the more we can conserve the more water there will be later.”

Hostetler offered the following tips:

  • Look for leaks. Turn off all water, go out to the water meter and see if the dial is spinning. If it’s moving and you have all your water off, you have a leak somewhere. “Water consumption can be pretty dramatic if you have a leak,” Hostetler said.
  • Reduce irrigation. People typically over-water their lawns, Hostetler said. While some residents may have irrigation systems that they can program, he encourage people to add soil moisture sensors. “The soil moisture sensor hooks up to the irrigation system, and first checks soil to see if it needs water,” Hostetler said. “This can save up to 60 percent on water bills.”
  • Check for broken spouts. “Sometimes residents are watering the street more than their turf grass,” Hostetler said. Make sure all of your spouts are in good working order.
  • Use native plants. Transform your front and back yards to native plants that require less water. “Irrigation is 50 percent of potable water use, and that’s one you can really target,” he said.
  • Use low-flow appliances. You should install low-flow showerheads and toilets, and use water efficient washers and dishwashers, Hostetler said.
  • Wonder how your water usage compares to your neighbors? Hostetler suggests residents log into Gainesville green utility at http://gainesville-green.com/, put in your address and see your water consumption. You can compare it to your neighbors’ usage to see if you are in line with them. “If you are way above your neighbor, something is going on there,” he said.

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cutline: A Florida-friendly yard using native plants is a great way to conserve water./Tyler Jones

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