Wednesday, January 17, 2018

In the Lab and On the Board: A Michael Dukes Interview

UF ABE Professor Michael Dukes was recently elected to serve on the Board of Directors of the Irrigation Association (IA). Those of us who work in outdoor water-use know IA as an advocacy organization, a certifying body and a resource for young people interested in green industry careers. IrriGator interviewed Dr. Dukes about what it means to be part of the IA Board and his outlook on irrigation for 2018.

Dr. Michael Dukes presents at Irrigation Show & Education Conference 2017
What does it mean to you to be elected to the Irrigation Association’s(IA) Board of Directors?
MD: It’s a great honor to be elected to the board. I’m only the second academic to be elected to the board. Very few are elected I believe because there aren’t many of us academics that work closely with industry. I enjoy learning about the industry and helping promote efficient Irrigation.

You’ve been involved with IA a number of years now. What do you hope to contribute in this role?
MD: I’ve been involved with IA in volunteer committee and leadership roles for 15 years or so and this role on the board is really exciting since the board sets policy for the organization. I look forward to participating in that role. I think I’ll learn much about the organization and its individual members in this role. I look forward to it!
Why is IA good for the industry?
MD: The IA promotes efficient Irrigation, in fact that is the organization’s mission! Thus the IA works as a bridge between the industry and government organizations to help promote the responsible and efficient use of water for irrigation. The efficient use of water results in the maintenance of landscapes to consumers’ desire as well as the food crops we require with the least amount of water possible. As a result, we’ll be able to sustain a growing population.

The new year is just getting started, can you give us any insight on what you’re focused on this year? Any trends you’re excited about in irrigation in 2018?
MD: Though water conservation hasn’t gotten as much attention in recent years, the Florida Water 2070 report estimates an additional 15 million people in Florida by that year. Development related water demand will increase 100% and the report goes on to say that reducing landscape irrigation is the single most effective strategy to reduce water demand in Florida.
Water 2070 Report

In 2018 we are still working closely with utilities on evaluation of Irrigation water conservation. They need to quantify whether things like rain sensors (Long Term Expanding-Disk Rain Sensor Accuracy) and sprinkler nozzles save enough water to warrant rebates. We are also working with developers to encourage implementation of Florida-Friendly Landscaping that we’ve shown reduces Irrigation by half compared to traditional landscapes and Irrigation (Irrigation Conservation of Florida-Friendly Landscaping Based on Water Billing Data.).

In addition, water quality impacts on the Floridan Aquifer have resulted in our project funded by the USDA. We are researching agricultural Best Management Practices such as nutrient management and irrigation management with soil moisture sensors to reduce the loss of nitrogen to the aquifer.

Friday, December 29, 2017

A Note About the Future

By Michael Gutierrez

Working in water research in Florida affords us plenty of excitement. 2017 certainly had its highlights. In addition to our regular efforts of communicating best practices in irrigation in both landscape and ag, this year marked the conclusion of two lengthy studies and the launch of several others. We also celebrated some notable achievements, some bittersweet departures and some welcome arrivals. Let’s get into the specifics as we look back at the year that was for IrriGator and UF-ABE.

Start At The Beginning
Everything began on a high note in January when one of our better blog entries of 2016 was adapted for a feature in Irrigation Today - the Irrigation Association’s quarterly publication about all things irrigation. Read along as Dr. Michael Dukes and I get to the bottom of whether or not one can install too many water-saving devices on an irrigation controller.

Another immediate benefit to all of IFAS this year was the addition of new data and water faculty. Recognized as the Environmentally Resilient Resource-Efficient Land Use Cohort, many of us had our first opportunity to meet these experts and learn about their work during the 2017 Urban Landscape Summit. I'm especially excited about Dr. Eban Bean. Dr. Bean is not only involved in forward-thinking research in urban stormwater, but he also eagerly invites audiences into his work by way of a strong digital presence on Twitter - smartly employing tweet threads and visual content to inform and educate. Watch for more from Dr. Bean et al. on IrriGator and Twitter in 2018!

...One To Go
While I’m on the topic of communicating research, this year I continued on my quest to interview all five of IFAS’s regional specialized agents in water. See my discussions with Drs. Mary Lusk and Charles Barrett and get up to date on the water issues in their areas of the state. Hopefully, 2018 will be the year I finally speak with the elusive Andrea Albertin of Florida’s NW district. You can also follow the work of all the water RSAs on the IFAS Extension blog.

Summer 17
As new faculty was finding their place among the Gator Nation, many of our brightest graduate students were setting off for new endeavors elsewhere. Accomplished researcher and popular IrriGator contributor Dr. Natalie Nelson successfully defended her PhD during summer and began the fall term as part of NC State’s BAE department. Masters student Eliza Breder defended her research based on the (just concluded) Orange County Smart Irrigation Study and moved on to lend her data skills to Suwannee River Water Management District. And landscape water-use expert Dr. Mackenzie Boyer defended her PhD as well, just before welcoming her third child into the world. Click on the respective links above to read interviews with these stellar UF-ABE alums.

Next stop: Detroit, MI
There were other ABE highlights this summer and most were celebrated during ASABE’s Annual International Meeting in Spokane, WA. Dr. Michael Dukes was formally inducted as an ASABE Fellow. Dr. Kati Migliaccio was recognized with the 2017 Gunlogson Countryside Engineering Award. Biomass Conversion PhD candidate Joe Sagues won first place in the Boyd-Scott Graduate Research Competition. And ABE’s plucky robotic squad bested a host of other teams to finish 4th in the robotics design competition. 2018’s AIM event is slated for Detroit, MI. I’ll be there collaborating with ASABE on digital content again. In the meantime, stay tuned for student competition videos from Spokane debuting here in January.

Ends and Initiations
As mentioned above, some long-term research work concluded this year. I made my final field visit for the Orange County Smart Irrigation Study in October and the final task report was filed this month. ABE PhD student Maria Zamora oversaw the third and final year of the nutrient management best practices study we affectionately refer to as SVAEC because it's based at the IFAS ag extension center in Live Oak.

Maria Zamora presents research in Honduras during summer
This project set the foundation for the ambitious undertaking known as FACETS which we’ll cover extensively here in 2018. And while 2016’s work was making the rounds at conferences this fall, the Dukes group finished their most recent product test with the IrriGreen Genius sprinkler. This zone parameter-adjusting rotor from the future went head-to-head with traditional rotors during summer and fall. I especially enjoyed working with this device because while preparing the research plot it put me back in the field digging trenches and cutting/gluing pipe in the summer sun. Once a tech always a tech.

Looking Ahead
There’s much to look forward to in water research in 2018. As for me, I’ll be watching from South Florida again as I am now part of Broward County’s Naturescape Irrigation Service. But one cannot specialize in outdoor water-use and not be cognizant of the research and education work ABE and IFAS does. I learned from the best there and take that insight with me wherever I go. And because words and visual media are my favorite means for communicating what I know and showcasing what other experts are working on, I assure you this will continue uninterrupted.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Closer Look at Rapid Infiltration Basins

One of the projects I work on keeps me regularly visiting the Turfgrass Research Envirotron during summer. This summer the Envirtron’s outdoor area was a bevy of activity and building. Upon inquiry, Envirotron Biological Scientist Natasha Restuccia informed me that the build involved a rapid infiltration basin trial and that Dr. Travis Shaddox was the researcher to speak to for more. A few weeks later during a campus visit, Dr. Shaddox agreed to an interview with IrriGator about the project.

Dr. Travis Shaddox
What is the objective of this study?
TS: The project is funded by Southwest Florida Water Management District. The objective is to determine how can rapid infiltration basins (RIB) be amended to greater enhance the denitrification of nitrogen from effluent water. RIBs are areas of land (quite large in some cases, 5 acres or more) where effluent water is pumped back into the ground water. In that process, the physics behind it is that any nitrogen in the effluent water will be denitrified out. They want to know how we can amend this system so that we enhance that denitrification. The second component would be how does that system that removes nitrogen leaching compare with home lawns and spray fields? Which of these systems – spray fields, lawns or rapid infiltration basins – are the most effective at reducing nitrate leaching into the ground water?

Was there a greenhouse phase to this project?
TS: We had a greenhouse phase that was conducted in Fort Lauderdale that looked at a factorial design of many amendments – 64 columns and a manifold identical to the one we’re doing in the field. In the greenhouse we were looking at which of these amendments are most effective at reducing nitrate leaching. From the results of that greenhouse phase we selected the most effective and that’s what you see out at the Envirotron now.

Which amendments advanced from the greenhouse to field phase?
TS: What we’re dealing with is basically a bioreactor – which is a system designed to greatly enhance the microbial activities responsible for denitrification. How do we do that? We end up applying treatments that have large quantities of soluble carbon, which generally is the limiting factor in microbial growth. I’m not a microbiologist, but the literature indicates that if you add soluble carbon to certain systems you’ll see a reduction in nitrate leaching because it’s denitrifying. So the thought was let’s try this with sawdust, limestone, and biochar.

Rapid infiltration basins and lawns at the Envirotron 
We took those three amendments and then did a factorial. So we’re dealing with each individual one and then all the combinations of those three amendments and then the control which is sand. The amendments that were most effective were those containing sawdust. The amendments that did not contain sawdust had very little influence on reducing nitrate leaching. The treatments that we ended up pulling out into the field because we have such limited space are sawdust, sawdust/limestone, and sawdust/biochar. And then of course the control (sand) as well as st. augustine and bahia lawns.

How long do you anticipate this will be in the field?
TS: Well, it’s supposed to start now (summer) and it’s going to run for two years. It has to run 24 hours a day at a very very low flowrate (up to 10mL a minute) and it has to do that non-stop for two years. There are cycles when it’s flooding and cycles where it’s drying – floods for a week, dries for a week, non-stop 24 hours a day for two years straight. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Florida Sinkholes Explained

By Eban Bean

Since Hurricane Irma, several sinkholes have developed around Alachua County and Florida, many in infiltration basins. An infiltration basin is sometimes also referred to as a dry retention pond or basin. You can find these in many residential and commercial areas where soils are sandy and the water table is not near the surface. Western Alachua County has hundreds of these.

Sinkholes are common in Florida, often forming after heavy rains. A popular video (see below) explains sinkhole formation, but there’s more to consider with development and stormwater management.

Karst Talk
Weak acids dissolve karst, CaCO3. Karst refers to topographic features where the subsurface is dissolved by surface or groundwater. This leaves large openings that allow water to move very quickly through the material. Karst is not unique to Florida and can be found in many parts of the US and around the world. Karst topography and sinkholes are naturally occurring.

Infiltrated rainfall leaches organic acids from surface that naturally dissolves Florida karst. Acid rain can accelerate this. Eventually, voids develop and overlying soil is not supported, collapsing at the surface. In well drained, undeveloped landscapes infiltration occurs across the entire area, uniformly except in low lying areas. When urbanized, runoff is conveyed from impervious areas commonly into dry infiltration basins. Several times more water is now infiltrating through the bottom of the basin, compared to before the area was developed. The acids in rainfall or from the landscape are focused in a much smaller area, accelerating dissolving CaCO3. Increased infiltration volumes also accelerate erosion of overlying soils as the karst void develops.

Sustainable Solutions
Sinkhole in Land O' Lakes, FL - Summer 2017 (image via NYT)
Sinkholes are often ‘fixed’ by filling them with concrete to stabilize the soil and geology below. Green infrastructure (GI) and low impact development (LID) distribute infiltration in developed landscape, using it more effectively. Examples of GI & LID: permeable pavement, bioretention, swales, cisterns, downspout disconnects, and infiltration trenches. Several local governments have incorporated LID practices into recent updates to stormwater programs. The water management districts are generally in support of it as well. The big hurdle is mainstreaming it into the engineering and design process. The first step in that direction is showing examples of these types of practices and projects where they not only perform well, but are cost effective, and easily maintained, compared to the conventional approach to land development.

Green infrastructure examples
We will be putting out a new series of EDIS documents and short videos that cover individual practices in the next few months. We are also working with developers to implement LID and green infrastructure into their projects, and evaluating the effectiveness of these practices. In the future we expect to offer continuing education for engineers and landscape architects on these subjects. UF/IFAS works with developers, government officials, and researchers on solutions for a more sustainable Florida future.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

My Week with the Irrigation Industry: An E3 Report Back

By Justice Diamond

Experience, exposure and education are the three tenets of Irrigation Foundation’s E3 Learner Program. This is accomplished by inviting selected students to take part in a week of course work and networking during the annual Irrigation Show and Education Conference. 2017’s E3 Class included 28 students and 2 instructors from 17 states. IrriGator asked UF-ABE masters student Justice Diamond to report back on his E3 experience in Orlando, Florida.

E3 Learner Justice Diamond and industry reps 
My focus
The focus of my graduate work is to develop best management practices and deliver those to farms throughout the Suwannee and lower Suwannee basins in North Florida. What I’m working on specifically is to develop an app for irrigation scheduling for corn.
Suwanne River Basins (USGS)
My advisors Drs. Migliaccio and Dukes encouraged me to apply when they saw the opportunity arise and I went ahead and applied. The courses I selected for E3 were Landscape Water Management and Planning and Center Pivot Design. I’m really interested in Center Pivot technology and was especially looking forward to learning more about that.

The Big Week
My E3 experience was very positive. The highlight of the week for me was getting to know other people - having conversations about what they’re doing, the research they’re doing, and having conversations with people in the industry about how they perceive what the industry is going to look like in the future and what they want out of students. 
The least enjoyable part was how long classes were. The teachers were very good, but with an eight hour class there actually isn’t a lot of time to go see the exhibits and I think that part could be condensed. Nevertheless, having an in depth discussion with someone who lives and breathes center pivots I learned a whole lot more. In that sense it was very educational.

Sponsors like The Toro Company ensure the success of the E3 Program
Thank you to the Irrigation Foundation for the opportunity to participate in E3. Meeting people who are all about irrigation, it can only benefit me because that’s what I work with, too. I can only learn and grow from their experiences. My advice to eligible students in 2018: definitely apply! There’s nothing you can lose from the experience and you’ll only learn and meet people who will help you out in the long run.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Looking Ahead: Irrigation Show and Education Conference 2017

Next week irrigation industry professionals from all walks will descend on Orlando, FL, for Irrigation Show and Education Conference 2017. The largest irrigation-focused event of the calendar year, it is as advertised, part product expo (everything you can imagine and more) and part conference - academic presentations, training seminars and certification courses/exams. Best of all for our UF-ABE researchers specializing in irrigation, it’s only a 2 hour drive away.

Research Showcase
UF-ABE research will be featured in both the agriculture and landscape sessions of the Technical Program at Irrigation Show. PhD candidate Maria Zamora is presenting an overview of irrigation and nutrient best management practices in corn. Research associate Bernard Cardenas will discuss recent work pertaining to the EPA WaterSense pressure regulating spray sprinkler body specification

Dr. Michael Dukes will focus on finds from a multi-year Orange County (FL)-based smart irrigation technology study. And Dr. Kati Migliaccio is presenting on rainfall data resources for use in Florida.

E3 Learners
Once again this year I’ll be collaborating with the Irrigation Foundation on digital content. We hope to shine a light on the E3 Learners Program, which selects students from across the country to attend the Irrigation Show, complete coursework and network with established industry pros. This year’s Learner class is comprised of 30 students from 17 different states! Young people are the future of the industry, and the Irrigation Foundation is doing their best to welcome them into the fold.
I’ll also be live tweeting throughout show week. Catch me @IrriGatorUF and follow/tweet along with all the show goings-on at #IrrigationShow.

See you there?
If Irrigation Show 2017 can draw even a sliver of Florida’s sizable green industry/water sector it will be another successful event. If you’re reading this locally/regionally and you’re not sure about making the trek to Orlando this November, take Dr. Dukes' advice: “Just do it! Especially if you are in Florida - this is a great opportunity close to home to see the latest and greatest in irrigation products and tech! It won’t be back for at least several years.

Hear Bringing Water To Life Podcast's Irrigation Show episode:
Listen to "Episode 39 - 2017 Irrigation Show Preview" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A WaterSmart Innovations 2017 Report Back

By Michael Dukes

WaterSmart Innovations is a can’t miss meeting for me because it is the single meeting of the many meetings I attend annually that focuses on water conservation. For me that means irrigation water conservation, but the meeting also covers indoor water conservation. It’s a good chance to let people know some of our latest results and to learn what types of research and implementation is happening with regard to irrigation water conservation in other areas of the country.
Given our proximity to the tragedy on the Las Vegas strip there was a somber feeling and mood to the beginning of formal sessions. We observed a moment of silence for respect to the victims. Doug Bennett, program chair, sent out a message regarding the tragedy. To sum it up he encouraged us to carry on in our small way to make the world a better place.
In the Audience
I chose sessions related to irrigation water-use; specifically about reducing peak demand through the use of smart controllers, education and or landscape modification. These are all topics we work on and I wanted to see the latest implementation from across the country. It’s noteworthy that smart controllers are no longer new and niche products. They are being implemented widely across the U.S. and many people are familiar at least in general what they are. Just a few years ago they were “new” and we had to explain what they were to people.

At the Podium
I was also tasked with presenting our work on the pressure regulating spray head (PRB) testing that was used by the EPA WaterSense program to develop their new spray sprinkler body specification. I feel it went well considering it was laden with technical details (I tried to trim as much as possible, but it’s a technical subject at the end of the day) and may have been boring to some non-tech folks. 
I got a number of technical questions and as a follow up met with some folks from California (CA). The CA Energy Commission is researching appliances for energy efficiency and water efficiency is directly related. In the near future (2019) they will have requirements for PRBs. I understand that non-PRBs will not be sold in CA after some transition date in the future. We may have the opportunity to do some more PRB testing in the lab to answer some of their questions. In fact a project proposal is currently being prepared!
Take Away
There were many good talks. Personally I was very interested in the talk by Joanna Endter-Wada about extension working with utilities in Utah to provide water consumption information to consumers. By understanding their detailed seasonal irrigation patterns and delivering targeted educational messages, they were able to significantly reduce over-irrigation. Excellent example of extension impacting stakeholders!