Friday, June 20, 2014

Saving water...and winning awards

Around this time last month I had the opportunity to attend a Florida-Friendly Landscaping (FFL) in-service training (IST) in Gainesville. The event attracted many agents and master gardeners from across the state, and provided me a chance for some team-time with Miami-Dade County’s Urban Conservation Unit (UCU).

Miami-Dade County's FYN/UCU team: Jesus Lomeli and Laura Vasquez
The Miami model
Miami-Dade County’s FFL/UCU program is a Water and Sewer Department-funded entity that works within the UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension Office, promoting the FFL ethic for sustainability (via the nine principles and yard certifications) while also executing the county’s larger goal of water-use efficiency through incentive-based urban landscape irrigation retrofits and a rain barrel program.

UCU technician Jesus Lomeli in system assessment mode
During the IST’s strategizing session, many of the Extension agents in attendance commented that this is a different approach to the usual county FFL program structure. Is it a model that can be replicated in other counties, even at a smaller scale? There certainly are non-replicatable advantages to working in a large urban center where the water utility is under constant pressure to meet water conservation goals and is prepared to invest resources accordingly.

Removing irrigation and installing Florida-Friendly
plants is rebate-worthy in Miami-Dade 
How it works
What I find most effective about the program is that although there are three areas of focus, each one complements all the others. The rain barrel program promotes low-intensity rainwater harvesting and maintains a presence year-round with workshops throughout the county and regular teaching events with children in schools. 

Do you know the nine principles?
The FFL program consistently certifies yards as Florida-Friendly based on the nine principles (above) and sometimes consults with landscape architects integrating FFL into initial designs on new construction. And the irrigation rebate program is in the field almost daily assessing residential and large systems and making recommendations to improve efficiency, all of which also qualify for rebates. At every point of contact with the community, each area of focus promotes the others.

Thanks to the UCU and forward-thinking contractors, weather-based
irrigation timers like this one have a foothold in Miami-Dade
2014 NACo Achievement Award
This month the National Association of Counties awarded Miami-Dade’s FYN/UCU program with an achievement award in the category of Environmental Protection and Energy, one of only 24 programs recognized across the U.S. 

This is well-deserved recognition and I’m pleased to play a role in this team’s efforts for sustainability and conservation in South Florida.

About the author: 
Michael Gutierrez is a water resources 
technician with UF/IFAS in the Ag & Bio 
Engineering Dept. He tweets, blogs and 
also shoots still and video media in South 
Florida, Gainesville and anywhere else a 
camera is handy. (image: Jesus Lomeli)