Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Previewing Urban Landscape Summit 2018

The 2018 Urban Landscape Summit is next week. It’s a rare treat to pack so much relevant Florida green industry insight in just two days of programming. A quick scan of the agenda reveals integrated pest management experts, turfgrass science experts, academic and municipal water-use experts as well as some great student poster topics. The UF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology (CLCE) is the organizing body behind the summit. CLCE Director Dr. Michael Dukes agreed to an interview with IrriGator to preview the event.

This is the Urban Landscape Summit’s 3rd incarnation. Other than the underlying urban landscape aspect, is there a theme to this year’s programming?

MD: The past two years have been heavily focused on water issues. This year we still have water since it's such an important issue in landscapes but we also have topics just as important such as invasives and pests as well as homeowner insights. In addition, we have a nice diversity of topics being presented by graduate students.

Do you have any specific presenters or topics you are excited about or looking forward to?
MD: I’m looking forward to the entire conference but especially our keynote speaker, Timothee Sallin, who is the President of Cherrylake - once a traditional nursery but now vertically integrated to provide management and maintenance of their installed horticultural material.

Also, I really enjoy the 5 minute lightning round presentations. They give just enough information so I can tell whether it is applicable to me and if I need further discussion with the presenter.

This year the second day of programming is comprised of In Service Trainings (IST), any insight on this new focus?
MD: Due to IFAS budget cuts last year, fewer resources were available for ISTs, thus we sought to capitalize on the fact that much of our audience are extension agents and are already traveling to the summit. As a result, in addition to the summit been a formal IST, we have two other ISTs the second day taught by CLCE faculty.
Michael Dukes at the UF/IFAS Landscape Unit (image UFABE Blog)

For someone who works in an urban landscape-related field and is on the fence about attending, what is your best pitch for participating?
MD: The information presented at the summit is cutting edge research and extension information that can immediately be used by practitioners. In addition, this is an opportunity to meet faculty and county agents working in this area.

The 2018 Urban Landscape Summit takes place March 14-15 on the UF campus in Gainesville, FL. Register here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Reporting Back from Water Institute Symposium 2018: An Interview with Bernard Cardenas

By Michael Gutierrez

For those of us working in water-use, UF Water Institute's 2018 Symposium (WIS) in early February marked a highlight of this year thus far. Experts, researchers, practicioners and students gathered in Gainesville for two days of presentations and panels covering the spectrum of water research. As someone who focuses on water-use efficiency outdoors, I was especially heartened by consistent references to landscape irrigation as a great, untapped area for water savings. IrriGator caught up with Symposium presenter and attendee Bernard Cardenas to further explore this idea and WIS 2018.

Both the opening and closing symposium plenaries alluded to how much potential there still is for outdoor water savings. What are your thoughts on this? How do you feel your presentation addressed this idea?
BC: Yes. There is high potential for water conservation still. There are new approaches not only with smart irrigation technologies but also Florida-Friendly Landscapes. That program is doing good things. In addition, Orange County Utilities for example is doing sprinkler nozzle replacements and rain sensor cost-share programs for better efficiency and preventing unnecessary watering.

What I presented was about testing smart irrigation controllers in the real world with the OCU Project. After five years we still have fantastic results with this technology - 32% water savings with weather-based timers and 43% savings with soil moisture sensors. One interesting fact I found from the plenaries is that more than 90% of new construction, single-family homes, come equipped with automated irrigation - something that was not so common 30 or 40 years ago. This puts a lot of pressure on utilities to provide water, so there is real potential for savings there.

There were dozens of presentations during the symposium. Can you talk about one or two you attended that really surprised you with either ambition or new insight?
BC: I was really impressed with Nicholas Taylor, state specialized extension agent, and his H2OSAV data hub. He is mapping data by home and neighborhood showing green space, water use, etc. So there is macro data and micro data. You’re able to see water use by neighborhood and filter for high irrigators. Really impressive.

Dr. Migliaccio’s talk was also interesting, more indication that wireless technology and wireless capability is the future. Your phone or mobile device is becoming not just your computer but your remote control for everything including irrigation in both landscape and agriculture.
The WI Symposium happens every two years. Do you feel it’s useful to have cross disciplinary water experts get together this way?
BC: Absolutely. For me it’s the only conference I’ve been to where the main players working in water, not just conservation but also water quality and coastal issues, get together to present/discuss about water in a holistic approach. I think it’s fabulous. There’s discussion among experts and academics and even feedback from the public. For anyone who attended the closing plenary, you saw members of Our Santa Fe River show up during the question and answer time and raise real, end-user concerns to the panel.

Can you talk about any research you’re working on this year that may tie into the theme of “Shaping Our Water Future?”
BC: Yes. Two things. We’re working on analyzing data supplied by Orange County Utilities generated from their rain sensor cost-share program and nozzle replacement initiative. So we’re looking at pre-/post-implementation there. And we’re also comparing those participating homes to their neighbors and also to the net irrigation requirement to analyze whether irrigation is below, matches or exceeds what is necessary to keep a healthy landscape. This kind of analysis is helpful so that utilities can determine whether or not their investment in conservation programs really yields results.

We are also going to begin doing additional work testing pressure regulating sprinkler spray bodies, as well as bodies with check valves and also the "x-flow" device that some sprinklers have that plug water flow when the nozzle goes missing - all efficiency enhancing features that help save water outdoors.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

2018 Water Institute Symposium Preview: Water Technology Session

2018 UF Water Institute Symposium Feb 6-7 
Session: Use of Technology to Shape our Water Future

The UF Water Institute Symposium is always filled with great information and opportunities to meet others in the profession. On February 6th - one of the sessions will focus on using technology in water decision making.

This will be an exciting session composed of Agricultural and Biological Engineering expertise and Electrical and Computer Engineering expertise. To give you a taste of what's to come, one of the presenters - Thiago Onofre (ABE graduate student) - created this video:

Other speakers include Drs. Eisenstadt (Wireless Weather Stations and Maintenance Training for Haitian Agricultureand Zare (Synthetic Aperture SONAR Soft Segmentation using Possibilistic Fuzzy Local Information C-Means) from ECE and Drs. McLamore (Mobile phone-based nanosensor diagnostics for planetary health) and Migliaccio (Using smartphone apps to make water management decisions) from ABE. 

Sponsored by Tampa Bay Water, the session takes place at 3:30 pm in Reitz Union 2365. If you are interested in the latest in technology and its application to water - don't miss it!

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.