Florida is the third most populous state in the United States (21.5 million in 2019) with an increasing demand for water for an ever-growing population.
According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), “Water conservation is the most important action we can take to sustain our water supplies, meet future needs and reduce demands on Florida’s water-dependent ecosystems such as springs, rivers, lakes, and wetlands.” Water conservation measures, adoption of year-round landscape irrigation restrictions, increased use of reclaimed water, and the use of Florida-Friendly landscape techniques together have resulted in a significant lowering of the per capita water use rates. Outdoor water use has long been considered the low-hanging fruit for conservation throughout the state. The recently released draft 2020 Central Florida Water Initiative water supply plan states that “Water conservation by all water use categories will continue to be a priority to meet the CFWI Planning Area’s future water demands. Historical gross per capita water use has decreased from 182 gallons per person per day (GPCD) in 1995 to 140 GPCD in 2015. While water conservation measures have already been implemented in the CFWI Planning Area, additional water conservation has an important role in meeting future water supply demands.”
Programs like the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM program, the Florida Water StarSM certification program, and the efforts by the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association have long promoted sustainable landscaping with measurable success throughout the state. In recent years, it is the collaboration of these programs using a clear message that strongly promotes the need for change in how we install and maintain landscapes. These include:
Plant selection Choosing plants appropriate to the locations in which they are being planted. Considering the sun, soil, water requirements and hardiness zone. Add native species to support native wildlife and pollinators.
Appropriate use of turfgrass Reduce the amount of irrigated turfgrass to increase options for diversity in the landscape and, importantly, reduce excess irrigation.
Efficient Irrigation Promote the adoption of the recently developed Landscape Irrigation Design Standards. Encourage all landscape professionals to pass the exam to earn the state’s voluntary Irrigation License. Encourage the use of smart irrigation controllers.
Responsible use of chemicals Ensuring all fertilizer or pesticide applications are applied by a licensed applicator who knows how to comply with local codes.
There are many hurdles to advancing current landscape practices in Florida, but success is more likely if we are strategic and collaborative in our messaging. FDEP, water management districts, extension programs, professional landscape and irrigation organizations, and local governments are all proposing a similar approach with clear messaging: Sustainable landscaping will help to ensure a sufficient water supply and protect our natural water resources.
by Deirdre Irwin
Deirdre Irwin is the Water Conservation Coordinator for the St. Johns River Water Management District. With 29 years of experience with the District, she has worked with the agency’s surface water regulatory program, water resource education program, certification program development, and water supply planning. Her work as the Florida Water StarSM Coordinator involves administering the program and technical outreach for the program. Deirdre works closely with district staff in the development of regional water supply plans and coordinates a regional utility conservation coordinator network.