Water quality and quantity issues are considered one of the greatest challenges facing our planet today. Access to clean drinking water and sufficient irrigation to cultivate food crops, hydrate livestock, and quench the thirst of our ever-evolving landscapes is fundamental for the continued well-being of society and our natural and modified ecosystems.
Historically, much of the water use across the country and state has been for agricultural purposes. However, data gathered in 2020 indicated that water usage for public supply (residential and commercial irrigation) was projected to exceed agriculture as the greatest use of water here in the state of Florida. As Florida is the third most populated state in the U.S., with an annual population increase of 318,855 in 2022 alone, it is critical now more than ever to prepare for this continued increase in development and the impact this will have on our water supply.
Florida is home to more than 7,800 freshwater lakes (367 in Orange County alone!) and over 11,000 miles of rivers, streams, and canals. As a major consumer of water, we obtain our freshwater from two primary sources: surface and groundwater. Underground freshwater reserves in some areas of our state are no longer able to sustain growing water demands. Therefore, being conscientious of how, when, and where we irrigate our landscapes is critical, especially during our more drought forward months of the year.
Steps for smart irrigation may include: calibrating your irrigation systems to 1/2-3/4 inches of water, familiarizing yourself with your local county water ordinance, selecting the right plants for the right place, and continuing to educate both yourself and others on useful tools, such as rain gauges and water calculators, that can aid in water conservation efforts.
Calibrate your irrigation system:
Figuring out the length of time you need to run your sprinkler system to avoid over watering your landscape is key.
- To do this, scatter anywhere from 5-10 straight-sided cans or jars around your lawn, within your irrigation zones.
- Turn on your sprinkler system for 15 minutes. Then, use a ruler to determine the overall depth of water that was captured in each container.
- Find the average depth of your containers by adding all of your measurements together and dividing by the total number of cans or containers used.
- This will give you the average irrigation rate per 15 minutes.
- Multiply this number by 4 to determine your average irrigation rate per hour.
- The ideal rate for our soils here in Florida is 1/2 -3/4 inches of water. In areas with greater soil clay content, less water is needed.
Familiarize yourself with your local county water ordinance.
Here in Orange County, the following restrictions apply to landscape irrigation, regardless of your water source (groundwater or surface water, private wells or pumps, public or private utility):
- Outdoor irrigation is limited to one day a week during Eastern Standard Time (from the first Sunday in November until the second Sunday in March) and two days a week during Daylight Saving Time (from the second Sunday in March until the first Sunday in November).
- Water only if necessary and not between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
- Water for no more than one hour per zone.
Violations of this ordinance result in a warning for first time offenders, and a fine of $25 for second time offenders. For more information on this, check out this link.
Select the right plants for the right place:
Climate change affects temperature and precipitation, at times resulting in increased periods of drought. Therefore, selecting plants for our landscapes that are best suited to our climatic conditions is a key starting place for water conservation.
Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ has a variety of resources to both help and inspire you to select plants that are drought-tolerant, heat-loving, pollinator-friendly, and will perform well in our landscapes with minimal input and reduced watering.
Resources available for more information on being water wise:
- Florida Water Star Program – This is a certification program for new homes and commercial buildings that use less water in landscapes, irrigation systems, and indoors, saving money, water, and benefiting Florida’s environment.
- Water Conservation Calculator – South Florida Water Management District – A watering calculator tool that estimates how much water you are currently consuming on a daily basis and how much water you could be saving with more efficient tools and equipment.
- Rain Sensors – More information on how a rain sensor works, different types of rain sensors, and why they are so important to have. In fact, here in the state of Florida, it is required by law that any automated irrigation system has a rain sensor or other shut-off device.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Sense Program – More information on steps you can take every day to save water and protect the environment.
- Rain Barrel Classes – Orange County Utilities – All Orange County water customers are invited to participate in classes about rain barrels.
Source: UF/IFAS Pest Alert
Note: All images and contents are the property of UF/IFAS.