UF study: About half of Florida residents are not aware of local water restrictions

Half of Florida residents don’t know about their local water restrictions, but those who are aware can be persuaded to abide by them, new University of Florida research shows.

Water restrictions can be set by cities, counties and the state’s water management districts.

Laura Warner. Courtesy, UF/IFAS photography.

But if homeowners don’t know the local or regional rules, it’s logical that they cannot develop favorable perceptions about these policies. Residential buy-in is the key to less irrigation, said Laura Warner, a UF/IFAS associate professor of agricultural education and communications.

“I think the most important finding is that we can now understand who intends to comply with irrigation restrictions in the future,” said Warner, lead author of the paper.

There are lots of reasons half the public doesn’t know about local water restrictions, Warner said.

“A simple explanation would be that there are either not enough educational messages, and/or the messages that do exist are not reaching the people they need to reach,” she said. “But another element is potentially that we have so many new residents to Florida.”

Even if people are aware of the restrictions but don’t fully understand them, that’s also a problem.

“Perceived complexity is the biggest barrier to compliance among people who are aware of these policies,” Warner said.

To understand this issue, the research team conducted an online survey of 2,101 Floridians. After eliminating numerous homeowners who wouldn’t be subject to these restrictions for various reasons – including the fact that they didn’t have a yard or didn’t have an in-ground irrigation system – they wound up with 415 respondents.

Those 415 use automatic irrigation systems and are subject to the rules. About half of them, 218, are aware of their restrictions. Of those 218, 95 were Hispanic; 45 Black; 10 American Indian or Alaska native; six Asian or Pacific Islander; 154 white; and nine identified as other.

Researchers asked questions such as: “In the next month, how likely are you to follow applicable irrigation restrictions when making decisions about watering your yard?”

Researchers found that — of the respondents who are aware of their local water restrictions — most had favorable perceptions toward following the rules. That leaves Warner relatively hopeful, but she knows more education is needed.

Her cautious optimism stems from a couple of factors. There are unspoken social norms for year-round green lawns, and there can be more formal community-level messages (for example, from homeowners’ associations), requiring a particular aesthetic that isn’t feasible.

“Our state is fairly unique in having year-round restrictions,” Warner said. “This isn’t something that is common in many other places, so it might not be something people are seeking information about. There are also conflicting messages regarding recommended irrigation frequency from other sources.”

Click here for more information on watering your Florida lawn.


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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) 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 brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

ifas.ufl.edu  |  @UF_IFAS



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Posted: February 28, 2024

Category: Conservation, Water
Tags: Agricultural Education And Communication, Intention, Irrigation, Knowledge, Laura Warner, Lawns, Restrictions, Water, Yards

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