Alachua County has declared April as “Water Conservation Month” and is starting a program called “Conservation Champs” to teach county employees how to save water and energy in both the office and at home.
“We depend on the aquifer for our drinking water, as do our springs, rivers and lakes. We all need to do our part to use less water everyday,” Alachua County Water Conservation Coordinator Stacie Greco said in a county press release.
Award-winning journalist, author and Gainesville resident Cynthia Barnett said residents live under an illusion of water abundance.
“We look around and see beautiful lakes and rivers, but we are really using more water than what is sustainable for our ecosystems,” she said.
Because water is cheap and easy to come by, residents have gotten used to pumping ground water and using it for whatever they want and need at that moment, Barnett said.
The good news, she said, is it is not too late to save our natural water resources.
She said statistics show both the utility sector (homes and businesses) as well as the agricultural sector are using a little less water all the time. When Barnett’s first book was published in 2007, Floridians were using about 178 gallons of water per day compared to today’s average of 134 gallons.
The director of the University of Florida Water Institute, Wendy Graham, said there have been strides in reducing the amount of freshwater use for agricultural irrigation and public water supply in Florida.
“There is already increasing pressure as water supply permits are renewed,” said Graham, who is also the Carl S. Swisher Eminent Scholar in Water Resources in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at UF. “The water management districts are requiring public water supply utilities to show evidence of water conservation methods for homeowners. For agriculture, the state is moving to a more consistent permitting method.”
But too much water is still being used, Barnett said.
“Many Floridians have really developed a new ethic for water, but unfortunately it hasn’t become systematic yet either in Florida or the U.S. as a whole,” she said.
Barnett said she has seen incredible water conservation technologies in places as far as Australia and as close to home as parts of Florida.
Although water conservation technologies are available, they are not more prevalent because it is expensive to convert to different technologies, and there is no incentive to conserve when ground water is easily accessible and free, Barnett said.
“Instead of spending our money to continually build more water suppliers, better use of tax dollars would be to help farmers conserve more water,” Barnett said.
For changes to occur, the water conservation needs to become more systematic, she said.
“It is a matter of people in Tallahassee and water management districts taking a longer term sustainable view of the resource and manage to use less over time instead of planning to use more and more and more in the future,” Barnett said.
It is people’s choice to determine what Florida’s water future will look like, Barnett said.
“If we keep over-pumping the ground water and using these precious fresh water resources to pour water on lawns or over-irrigate, we face a future of continual drying up springs, impaired springs and low-flowing or disappearing rivers,” Barnett said. “It has happened every where else that has over tapped its resources.”