Homeowners associations (HOAs) and neighborhoods have critical roles to play in protecting local water quality. HOAs manage thousands of stormwater ponds and countless acres of landscapes across Sarasota County. The way those community assets are managed can have a significant impact on our interconnected natural systems and, ultimately, the health of our bays and the Gulf of Mexico.
UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County (Extension) provides many services to support HOAs in understanding opportunities to make a difference. Through educational programs, assessment tools, and technical assistance, Extension works with neighborhood residents and management associations, to highlight how our collective actions can and do affect water bodies, ecosystems and more. With the support of Extension, HOAs can apply best practices to their management of ponds and landscapes, and help improve our community’s water quality.
Extension’s services to support water quality improvements for HOAs include:
- Extension developed a Stormwater Pond Habitat Assessment tool for HOAs and neighbors to rate the overall ability of their pond(s) to provide habitat to invertebrates, fish, and birds. This is available either in the interactive tool linked above, or as PDF-format scorecards on Littoral Zones and Buffer Zones, providing clear guidance and photos on best practices.
- Extension partnered with the Sarasota County Public Utilities Department to develop a Bay-Friendly Fertilizing tool that allows reclaimed water users—both large users, such as HOAs and turf managers, as well as individual homeowners—to understand how irrigating with reclaimed water can reduce the amount of fertilizer they need to apply, which can help protect water quality in both stormwater ponds and our creeks, bays and the Gulf of Mexico. This is also available to be presented in neighborhood workshops.
- The Water Resources agent at Extension works with HOAs to evaluate stormwater ponds on their grounds and make suggestions for best practices they can apply in managing the ponds. This assessment and educational service includes giving presentations to HOA committees, completing site visits, providing technical assistance, and then, after initial changes have been implemented, returning to discuss next steps. This has been done in partnership with the Neighborhood Environmental Stewardship (NEST) Program of the Sarasota County Public Works Department, providing additional services to support HOAs.
- Extension is a partner in the Healthy Ponds Collaborative, a multi-agency initiative led by Solutions to Avoid Red Tide (START) and funded by Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, to implement, educate on, and demonstrate stormwater pond best management practices. That initiative is:
- Providing HOAs committed to best practices with an opportunity to apply for grants of up to $5,000 for plantings along ponds.
- Developing a manual of stormwater pond best management practices, that will be shared with HOAs and neighborhood groups.
- Extension led a statewide partnership to develop the Healthy Ponds Certification Program for pond management professionals, which teaches pond management best practices. Offered several times over the last few years, that effort is now being adapted by the statewide Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ program to further support HOAs.
- Find additional information on many of these efforts.
- The Residential Horticulture agent and Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM (FFL) specialist support HOAs through presentations to their committees on landscaping best practices, as well as site visits and technical assistance to evaluate current landscape maintenance practices and provide recommendations for improvements. In these consultations, many resources are provided. The FFL program has numerous guidance publications to help HOAs implement FFL practices at a neighborhood level. FFL has a guide for hiring quality landscapers; one for writing an effective landscape contract; a list of FFL-Certified Professionals; and even guidance on writing up a Landscape Covenant implementing FFL practices. Extension staff discuss and share each of these publications with HOAs, as appropriate.
- Master Gardener Volunteers (MGVs) support HOAs in several ways:
- Answering HOA questions at Plant Clinic help desks, with support from the agents or other staff, as needed.
- MGVs also develop and maintain demonstration gardens that provide example landscapes showcasing sustainable, attractive options for common area and residential landscapes. The Educational Outreach Garden under development at Extension’s Twin Lakes Park office includes among its goals to specifically educate HOAs through demonstrations they can replicate in their commonly owned properties.
- The Chemicals in the Environment agent supports HOAs through:
- Presentations at meetings and committees on the variety and use of biorational pesticides in the landscape as part of an integrated pest management strategy. Biorational products are safer and environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional chemicals.
- Presentations on common insects found in a Florida landscape. Emphasis is on identification of pest insects and their biological controls as well as lesser known, but common beneficial insects beyond ladybeetles. Education and understanding of the landscape ecosystem structure helps homeowners to make informed decisions on when and what type of controls may be needed (if any).
- Evaluations of pesticides applied to common areas by licensed contractors. Recommendations are offered to replace an older, conventional chemical with a newer chemical with a safer chemical profile. Pesticides can impact water quality through leaching, run-off or slow breakdown.
- The Waste Reduction agent supports HOAs through:
- Shared Spaces: Community Composting education program, which works directly with HOAs to implement on-site community food waste diversion programs. The compost created can be used to reduce the use of fertilizer and water within the community.
- Support for professional landscapers:
- Extension provides landscaping best practices training for “green industry” professionals, who then employ these techniques through the contracts that HOAs have with those landscaping companies.
- Extension also provides the exam location for pesticide applicator and other licensing exams that landscaping professionals need to maintain required certifications.
- Information is available on the benefits of shifting to electric lawn equipment for air and water quality, as well as the health of the landscape professionals. Learn more here.
- Learn more about these efforts.
- The Florida Sea Grant agent supports HOAs through:
- Presentations to their committees on mangrove best management practices, as well as site visits and technical assistance to evaluate current mangrove fringes, assess maintenance practices, and provide recommendations for improvements.
- Presentations on the use of living shorelines for erosion control, as well as technical assistance to evaluate coastal properties and provide recommendations for improvements.
- Presentations on native coastal plants to use for shoreline properties, identification of invasive species, best practices for maintenance of coastal shorelines, and recommendations to enhance coastal properties.
- Support for professional landscapers:
- Extension provides mangrove best practices training for landscapers and natural resource management professionals, who then employ those techniques through the contracts that HOAs have with those companies.
These are just some of the ways that Sarasota County Extension works with neighborhoods to help protect our vital natural resources and water bodies. Learn more about Extension and the courses and programs we offer by visiting sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/sarasota, and find all of our current events at ufsarasotaext.eventbrite.com. For more on Sarasota County’s water quality initiatives, visit www.scgov.net/waterquality.