GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Participants in a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension program saved 65 million gallons in outdoor irrigation in 2016, enough to supply 15 subdivisions with water for a year, UF/IFAS experts say.
“UF/IFAS is making a difference with our limited water resources,” said Laura Warner, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of agricultural education and communication. “Seemingly small drops in the bucket really add up when we look at the big picture across the state and over time.”
Using less water also saves money: $200,000 a year in tap water utility bills, said Tatiana Borisova, a co-investigator and a UF/IFAS associate professor of food and resource economics.
Their figures come from a sample of Extension agents in 16 Florida counties, so the savings may be greater, the researchers said.
In a presentation to the UF/IFAS Urban Landscape Summit on March 17, Warner and Borisova showed how they estimated benefits of residential water conservation.
To calculate the financial savings that Extension program participants can see on their water bills, UF/IFAS experts used a statewide survey of water fees, combined with estimates of water savings from various irrigation conservation practices, Warner said. Borisova added that the financial savings can even be greater if one accounts for the potential savings in wastewater fees (that sometimes can account for water use for residential irrigation).
UF/IFAS researchers are trying to help Extension agents estimate the economic benefits of residential outdoor water conservation and to communicate those benefits to homeowners.
“We anticipate that UF/IFAS will report greater impacts associated with behavior changes we bring about in the home landscape as more agents and specialists use this resource,” said Borisova, who’s also an Extension specialist. About 76 county and statewide Extension specialists conduct water conservation programs, Warner said. About one quarter of the county Extension agents were included in this initial survey.
The average American household spends more than $1,000 per year on water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study cited in a new Extension document, http://bit.ly/2nD6PMn, co-authored by Borisova, Warner and other UF/IFAS researchers and Extension faculty.
Frequently, the biggest barrier to residential water savings is that people don’t know enough about conservation strategies and the benefits associated with those strategies, Borisova said. That’s why UF/IFAS Extension conducts residential water-saving workshops. About 87,000 people participated in UF/IFAS Extension water conservation programs in 2016, Warner said.
Expanding the UF/IFAS Extension urban landscaping program will be key to its success.
“We have the opportunity to reach new Extension audiences by expanding programs in urban areas, working with homeowners associations and targeting new Florida residents,” Warner said.
Kathyleen Sherrod, a Greenacres, Florida, resident and Florida Master Gardener, took her homeowners association president to a UF/IFAS Extension course that offered practical solutions to common HOA problems: water retention, best irrigation practices, choosing drought-tolerant plants and more. With help from an irrigation specialist, they reduced HOA watering from three to two times a week. They replaced all damaged or inoperative sprinkler heads and dead or dying plants with more drought-tolerant plants.
“Even with reduced watering, lawns, palms and trees, ornamentals of all manner still look healthy,” Sherrod said. “It’s a process. After 10 years of non-Florida-Friendly Landscaping practices, we are turning a corner and expect over the next years we will see continued improvement.”
By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, firstname.lastname@example.org
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.