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Gardening From Florida

...Water Conservation –– Not Just A Fad, But Necessity
by Teresa Watkins
by Teresa Watkins

Teresa Watkins, University of Florida's Florida Yards & Neighborhoods multi-county program coordinator is a recognized leader on xeriscape principles and creating 'environmentally-friendly' landscapes.

An award-winning radio and TV host of a variety of gardening shows in Central Florida, Teresa recently designed the landscaping of the 'first energy and environmentally efficient' home in the state of Florida to be certified as a 'green home' by the Florida Green Building Coalition and Florida Solar Energy Center. Currently, she hosts a weekly radio show, 'In My Backyard' on WLBE 790 AM, sponsored by the Lake County Water Authority, that features environmental issues and landscaping advice on for backyards.

When not digging in someone else's backyard, you can find Teresa digging in her own garden, looking for slugs and lubber grasshoppers --- creatures, that she adamantly swears, do not have souls --- aided in that effort by Sheila, her loyal Scottish terrier and legendary lubber killer.

October 12, 2003

The fundamentals of water conservation are now being demanded of all water suppliers, such as water restrictions, alternative water resources, and providing environmental education to consumers. Yet, the majority of Florida residents’ perception, especially in Central Florida, is that these water conservation methods are only needed temporarily during drought periods rather than as part of every day living. With less than 1 percent of the world’s water supply being fresh, the reality is that water quality and water quantity should be in the forefront of every country’s government issues in the world. The following statistics are staggering:

  • Over 5 million people die each year from water-related diseases, such as cholera, and dysentery.
  • (August 15, 2002) Over 76 million people will perish from water-related disease by 2020 unless urgent action is taken, according to a new report released today by the Pacific Institute of Oakland, California. The report finds that water-related diseases could claim more lives than the global AIDS pandemic by 2020 unless major changes are made.
  • National Geographic, September 2002, cited statistics recently that prove global farmers and municipalities worldwide are pumping water out of the ground faster than it can be replenished.
  • 2.7 billion people face severe water shortages if consumption continues at current rates.
  • The Aral Sea is expected to disappear within the next ten years if water continues to be pulled from it by agriculture farms and townsfolk.
  • The New York Times reported October 10th that Israel is preparing to go to war with Lebanon over Lebanon using water that will deplete the river Jordan which is one of Israel’s main water supply.
  • Nearly one in five people or 1.1 billion men, women and children have no access to fresh water, according to the United Nations, while a staggering 2.4 billion lack adequate sanitation.
  • Water tables in countries as far apart as the United States and China are steadily declining because of overconsumption
  • The report, "Dirty Water: Estimated Deaths from Water-Related Diseases 2000-2020," looks at three different scenarios and concludes that even if we achieve the United Nations Millennium Goals, which aim to cut the proportion of people without clean drinking water by half, 34 to 76 million people could perish over the next twenty years.
  • As of October 1, 2002, water restrictions now outlaw any irrigation of your landscape in Denver, Colorado or in the state of Virginia.
    At 8 billion gallons a day from 27 first magnitude springs, the state of Florida is the largest producer of fresh, potable water, more than anywhere else in the world. As of this date, over 6 billion gallons of water a day is being used by the homeowners and commercial enterprises, with 50 % of that water use being applied needlessly in irrigating our lawns. The United States is the only country in the world that uses potable water on landscapes. The water crisis Florida anticipates is not one hundred, fifty or twenty years down the road, but facing Floridians now and citizens are not heeding the warnings.

Homeowners like to place the majority of the blame of the water consumption on golf courses and the agricultural industry, but when looking at the consumption reports, these two industries have reduced their use of water by over 50% in the last ten years, whereas homeowners have increased their usage of water in that same time frame by more than 50%, especially during drought periods. It is ironic that the gallons of water used by customers rises considerably, immediately after water restrictions are mandated, almost as if people are rationalizing their usage with “well, if the water’s going to run dry…I better get my share now.”

The world is not running out of water, let’s not perpetuate that myth. We are running out of fresh, potable water. What a lot of people do not realize is that water is free and should be available to everyone. This puzzles those who get a water bill every month from their local water department. They do not understand that they get a water bill, not for the amount of water they used (or wasted) but for the services to provide that water into their home. As long as people can go to their faucets, turn on a handle and drink water from their tap, the urgency or need to think about not having water in the future is reduced. As the water supplies dwindle, and the utilities have to go to more expensive sources of water supply, like surface water, reclaimed water and desalinization plants, the cost of water within the next ten years is expected to rise five to six times the amount the consumer pays now. That is shocking news to Florida residents, many who will be faced with having to make decisions regarding their priorities of whether they even want to have landscapes.

Educating homeowners now so that they understand that these water conservation techniques are not punishment, but commonsense techniques that will ensure plenty of water for everyone in the future along with increased water quality. This should be a prime focus for all water suppliers, private and utility. Reducing water consumption, storm water runoff and the use of non-source water pollutants, such as fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides will help water suppliers keep down costs of water treatments and raising water bills. Without consistent education and if the Water Management Districts lift the water restrictions, the majority of homeowners would return to watering every day in the summertime and once every two to three days in the wintertime. This gross over-watering would waste 360,000 gallons of water a year per home, equating to over one million gallons for every three homes. With most new developments averaging 1,000 homes, how can we justify using pure water to irrigate grass and weeds?

Counties and city planning boards are now requiring developers to provide and pay for the infrastructure of reclaimed water pipes in new communities, passing on the costs to new home buyers. Utilities should encourage reuse of water and continue to preach best management practices of landscape xeriscaping principles through series of Florida Yards & Neighborhoods landscaping workshops. These simple methods will help reduce water use by changing misperceptions to good habits within one generation. Educating the voting communities on the benefits of aquifer storage reserves for use during periods of heavy rains will also ensure that adequate water supplies will be available for normal drought periods.

The topic at meetings of certain environmental groups is the depletion of the rain forests in Amazon, and yes, that’s an issue, but one that our country can’t really do anything about beyond enacting import laws. Newspapers report the concern from world organizations about the ozone layer and global warming, but even those can be disputed among academic research as to whether they are legitimate concerns. These are pithy, debatable subjects for cocktail parties and PTA get-togethers, but the number one issue facing the world today is water quantity and water quality. The water situation the world faces is immediate and so critical, yet the majority of residents, businesses, and government offices have their heads in the sand thinking that the economy and the growth of our state will dry up if the truth is told. Showing the nation that Florida places a priority on its water quality and water quantity would boost state revenues and ensure the economy thrives. We need to educate everyone about being good stewards of the most precious resource on Earth that freely bubbles up from our state. You see, water is not only our right, but our responsibility.


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