Tampa Bay Times
A community approach to protect water quality
Florida’s freshwater is naturally susceptible to contamination, largely because of its unique sandy soils and interconnected surface and groundwater systems. As Floridians, we rely on surface and groundwater systems such as lakes, wetlands, aquifers and urban green spaces to protect and foster renewable resources. For example, wetlands can immobilize nutrients and heavy metals, thereby helping to restore freshwater supplies. Homeowners who take a community-level approach to sustain these systems can make a difference.
HOAs and neighborhood residents can evaluate themselves to address reported sources of nutrients and pathogens affecting water quality in their watershed (How’s My Waterway). A scorecard evaluation consisting of UF/IFAS Extension recommendations can help residents identify and resolve existing environmental issues based on their landscape design, plant selection, soil type, irrigation and maintenance practices.
Why re-evaluate an existing landscape? The disconnect between urban landscape design, plant selection, site preparation and recommended plant installation and maintenance practices poses unintended consequences. Often, individual expectations of the designer, builder and homeowner lead to an endless cycle of over-pruning, over-application of chemicals, nutrients, water and plant replacement. In the end, it’s essential to understand how these interrelated practices may lead to nutrient loss and poor water quality.
After the community evaluation, homeowners can adopt a host of beneficial strategies to seek improvements. The FloridaFriendly Landscaping™
(FFL) Nine Principles provide an excellent set of guidelines to follow. The first principle, “Right Plant, Right Place,” helps residents select appropriate plants and materials to renovate the site. Another strategy is to utilize Low-Impact Development/ Green Infrastructure design techniques, such as vegetative swales or rain gardens, to manage and treat stormwater onsite.
Additionally, FFL principles serve a functional purpose for neighborhoods and communities to protect water quality. UF/IFAS research suggests residential landscapes can play a primary role in protecting water quality. For example, ornamental plants and trees provide “rainfall interception” to temporarily displace rainfall and reduce volume spikes in stormwater runoff.
Evaluation example: • Evaluate: Address narrow, confined sidewalks and driveway plant beds that may contribute to nutrient loading; for example, nutrient-rich runoff from fertilizer, reclaimed water irrigation, soil erosion, and sediment and grass clippings that collect on hard surfaces.
• Renovate: Select plants based on UF/IFAS Extension recommendations to minimize applications of plant nutrients, watering requirements, pruning, edging, and associated organic debris waste.
• Communicate: Reach out to the community and local stormwater manager to review the project goals. Determine and set baselines to monitor water quality effects; for example, downstream turbidity and aquatic conditions.
• Demonstrate: Provide a tour to reinforce the importance of protecting natural resources by educating friends and neighbors.
So, take a second look around and evaluate how your community can take action to protect water quality and sustain natural resources. If a project proves to be overwhelming, seek help from landscape professionals, your county or city stormwater department and your local UF/ IFAS Extension agent. Remember, only water goes down the storm drain. Florida’s water quality is essential to our economic, social, and environmental way of life.