Congratulations to brand-new CJC alumna Alex Harris, whose investigation into unsustainable landscape practices in Florida homeowners associations has been published in the Tampa Bay Times. For her long-form story in spring Environmental Journalism class, Alex tracked down residents around the state who’ve tried to replace thirsty St. Augustine grass with Florida-friendly landscaping, only to be sued by their homeowners associations. The Florida Legislature changed state law fifteen years ago to ensure this could no longer happen, but Alex found the problem persists, with residents on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. Great job, Alex! We hope your story will help clarify the law and protect conscientious Floridians and our water resources.
Scientists are curious people, constantly searching for answers to questions that often elude others. Laura Reynolds has found the answers she sought out, but she doesn’t think anyone is listening.
Reynolds said since moving to work in Florida as an environmental scientist and conservationist, she has seen how disconnected people are from the problems the delicate ecosystem faces.
“Part of the problem is that many people don’t think about where their water comes form or where it goes,” Reynolds said. “The fishermen in Dade County don’t even realize that the water entering Biscayne Bay affects their catch.”
Reynolds believes change is necessary now for any type of recovery to happen.
“Think about turning on the faucet on the day that no water comes out and then deciding that there’s a problem the needs to be dealt with,” Reynolds said. “We have got to get away from that kind of reactionary thinking.”
For three years, Reynolds has been the executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society, in Dade County. The group operates to conserve all natural resources, including water, and educate members and the public about the delicate relationship we all have with the planet. Years before she took the top position in the non-profit organization, Reynolds served on the Tropical Audubon Society Board of Directors as both the vice president and the chair of education.
“Really, a non-profit tries to take the science and make use of it,” Reynolds said. “If you’re just a scientist in the field and you don’t interact with some of the people that are trying to influence policy then your work just sits there.”
Born and raised in Monticello, New York at the base of the Catskill Mountains, Reynolds was always surrounded by nature, both thriving and suffering. Reynolds said her childhood turned her into an environmentally conscious scientist.
“I got to see the Long Island Sound start to come back from a very bad place,” Reynolds said.
The Sound is an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean between Connecticut, Long Island and New York City that has suffered tribulations with pollution through the years. Reynolds attributes the recovery of the Sound as evidence that restoration is possible from the brink of total pollution.
Her love for the environment spurred questions that she didn’t have the answers to. By age 9, Reynolds realized her life would be spent as a scientist finding those answers.
Laura has worked, researched and taught in Florida since she moved here in 1994. She completed her undergraduate degree in marine and environmental science at Jacksonville University. She sought more science research and her master’s degree in education at the Florida International University while also working as an adjunct professor.
After seeing a divide between people and the land, Reynolds turned her focus from research to education outreach and advocacy.
“I think that universities ought to require some kind of environmental course, whether you’re a major or not,” Reynolds said. “I think it’s so important that people understand that we live above our water supply.”
Reynolds believes a combination of political reform and an educated, conscious public is the only way to save Florida’s ecosystem.
“For the most part people are reluctant to make changes in their life because they don’t think it makes a big difference,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said she reduces her impact on the water supply by taking shorter showers, using public transportation, Xeriscaping her yard and saving rain water for irrigation through a rain barrel system.
Reynolds believes the transient, non-native population of Florida is a large contributor the state of the water here.
“Unfortunately for Florida, a lot of people were not born here,” Reynolds said. “Their roots are not here and so their actions to protect it are not the same.”
Reynolds said there are some native Floridians trying to preserve the state’s delicate ecosystem, but not enough.
“Development rights are being transferred in the northern Everglades because [natives] don’t want their land to ever be developed,” Reynolds said. “They want to see their family’s legacy continue on. We need more of that. Those are kind of people that can save a community.”
Spring and summer seasons for Floridians are characterized by recreational activities involving water sources that are especially unique to us like springs and beaches. While we use these resources almost all year around, it can be difficult to notice that these water sources, once plentiful, are now gradually being depleted by wasteful behavior and old technology.
The average gallons per day for a person in Mozambique (Africa) is 2 gallons, Germany, 72 gallons, Canada, 114 gallons, the United States, 150 gallons and Florida, 176 gallons, according to statistics from the St. Johns River Water Management District. The St. Johns district statistics show that about 58 percent of water use goes to outdoor uses – the worst offender being irrigation.
Other uses include about 10 percent for the toilet, about 8 percent for washing machines, about 7 percent for the shower, about 6 percent for faucets and about 5 percent goes to any kind of leak. Cutting down usage of all of these appliances could make a dent in water usage, considering they account for about 36 percent of water usage per person.
There are numerous excuses for not cutting back on water: not enough money, time or lack of knowledge. But whether you don’t have money or you don’t have time, water saving behaviors or upgrades are still in reach.
By just changing behaviors or making upgrades outside the home, 40 gallons or more of water can be saved per day. Behaviors that can easily be changed to reduce water usage are:
- Water plants and grass only when needed.
Tip: Step on the grass – if it springs back then it doesn’t need water
- Set the lawn mower blades one notch higher.
Tip: Never cut more than the top third of grass to decrease evaporation. Longer grass means less evaporation.
- Don’t water on windy days
- Only water before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. Watering midday can waste up to 65 percent of water to evaporation.
- Don’t let the hose run while washing your car, instead use buckets to hold water and soap
- Group plants according to their watering needs
- Water less in the winter.
- Use a broom instead of hose to clean driveways
- Adjust sprinklers to reduce spraying on sidewalks and driveways
- Repair leaky hoses or sprinklers
Ready to take the next step?
There are nontraditional upgrades that can be made to the outside of the home. Some of them, like rain barrels and cisterns, that seem foreign to some, but they can stop wasteful watering easily. Upgrades to the outside of the home are:
- Water-efficient drip irrigation for trees, shrubs and flowers
- Install a rain shut-off device on automatic sprinklers
- Put mulch around trees, shrubs and flowers to lessen evaporation
- Use rain barrels or cisterns to collect rain run-off
- Replace turf grass with native drought-tolerant vegetation
- Make a compost pile
- Replace traditional St. Augustine grass (high water use) to a lower water use grass
- Install a smart irrigation controller that adjusts watering for temperature and rain
- Install a pool cover to reduce evaporation
Also: Be careful with small children around these.
Inside the Home
Even though most of the water usage is accounted for outside of the home, 41% of water use comes from uses inside the home. By changing behaviors and making a few upgrades, water can be saved and used efficiently, saving anywhere up to 30 gallons per person, per day.
Water saving tips involving behavioral change are:
- Shower in 5 minutes or less
Tip: Don’t think you can shower in just 5 minutes? Try just cutting back your shower by 2 minutes to save 5 gallons per day)
- Run only full loads in the clothes washer
- Don’t leave water running while washing the dishes
- Run the dishwasher only when full
- Turn off water while brushing your teeth
- Fill the bath tub only halfway
- Don’t use the toilet as a waste basket
Still not enough?
You can upgrade appliances and plumbing in the home to further water saving. Some of these upgrades cost $1 while some cost hundreds of dollars.
Upgrades to save water in the home are:
- Fix leaky faucets and toilets
Tip: Put a few drops of food coloring in your toilet tank, wait 15 minutes, and if bowl water is colored then you have a leaky flapper that should be replaced.
- Install a shower head with a maximum flow rate of 2 gallons per minute
- Install low flow shower head (2 gallon/min)
- Purchase efficient clothes washer (Energy Star)
- Purchase an efficient dishwasher (Energy Star)
- Install toilets with 1.28 gallons per flush
Tip: If you can’t afford a new toilet, try this to reduce the amount of water it uses – fill half way a half-gallon jug with pebbles, gravel, sand or water, and put it in the toilet tank.
**Also: If one flush doesn’t clean out the toilet, then remove the jug.
- Install sink aerators with maximum flow rates of 1.5 gallons per minute
Information was provided by Stacie Greco of the Alachua County of Environmental Protection Department. More resources on saving water include Gainesville Regional Utilities, St. Johns River Water Management District, South West Florida Water Management District and the Suwannee River Water Management District. GRU also provides free home surveys where their trained professionals can point out how to save water and energy in the home.
Matt Bledsoe, assistant park manager at Paynes Prairie State Preserve, explains the various issues facing park staff due to a lack of rainfall in the past year.The Gainesville region received no heavy tropical systems in summer 2011, Bledsoe said, which has strongly contributed to the ongoing drought and wildfire conditions at Paynes Prairie. The dry conditions have inhibited the staff’s ability to conduct prescribed fires and have also sent the gators north toward Newnans Lake.
Additional alligator photos courtesy of Matt Bledsoe.