Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Another One: A Look Back At 2015

By Michael Gutierrez

The end of the year affords a great opportunity to reflect on and assess the work of the past twelve months. For me and the Dukes research group, 2015 was all about initiating new projects and watching others come to fruition. Follow along as I review our year in water research.

When you receive an invitation to discuss your work and agenda for the year before a national audience, you take it. That's what Miami-Dade's Urban Conservation Unit (UCU) and I did in January, collaborating on national twitter discussion #landscapechat - explaining the water challenges we face in Florida and highlighting the work we do to promote sustainability. Relive the discussion here.

A January 2015 promotional short 

Water Quality to the Fore
The SVAEC project (named after the Suwannee Valley County research center where it is based) started early in 2015 and continued throughout the year. SVAEC is a three year nutrient management study in corn and peanut cultivation that encompasses water sampling from drainage lysimeters, soil core sampling and plant tissue sampling to determine how nutrients from fertilizer move in the growing area. 
Installing a drainage lysimeter in Live Oak: like this, but 72 times!
We tested lysimeter designs on campus in early spring and by May were installing 72 drainage lysimeters in the ground in Live Oak. Planning for the second year of SVAEC begins in January, you can learn more about the project through the short video below.

Celebrating Rain
As a content creator, I never miss an opportunity to showcase people in the world of water that I admire. Cynthia Barnett is one of those people. In January, Ms. Barnett returned to UF as a Hearst Visiting Professional to teach Environmental Journalism and was kind enough to let me sit in on the lecture portion of the course. 

Cynthia Barnett at the Gainesville release event for Rain: A Natural and Cultural History
Ms. Barnett was also game to sit down with graduate student Mackenzie Boyer and discuss teaching as well as a new book set to release in April. For me, listening to and learning from an author like Cynthia Barnett, who is doing some of the finest water writing around, was a highlight of 2015. You can listen to the IrriGator interview here, as well as an extended public radio interview on Rain: A Natural and Cultural History here.

From Homestead to Gainesville
The renowned team of UF water researchers based in Gainesville grew in 2015 with the addition of Dr. Kati Migliccio. Previously based at UF’s Tropical REC, this summer Dr. Migliaccio relocated to Gainesville and soon began work on North Florida trials for the successful smart irrigation turf app. Located at research plots on campus, the tests are comparing smart turf app water savings with that of many widely available weather-based timers and soil moisture sensors. 
Dr. Migliaccio has helped develop a number of irrigation apps for smart devices. Learn more about current testing in the short video above and check back with IrriGator in 2016 as these app products continue to improve and the focus of Dr. Migliaccio’s North Florida water research expands.

July is smart irrigation month. This year I helped push the message of wise outdoor water use on two fronts: showcasing experts locally and nationally. For IrriGator I produced videos with UF experts about four aspects of water-efficient irrigation. For the UCU I collaborated on a longer production collecting insights from industry professionals across the country defining the smart irrigation concept. See the four micro-videos here and the longer piece below.

July also marked an important milestone in the Orange County Smart Irrigation Study that the Dukes group helps manage. Following three years of research and data collection, the county began the process of developing policy around the water saving potential of smart irrigation devices. Learn more about how UF research helps promote water saving through technology here.

Faculty Fellow Award
This fall Dr. Michael Dukes was awarded the UF Water Institute’s Faculty Fellow Award for achievements in interdisciplinary water research and education. 

Congratulations Dr. Dukes!
Listen to a portion of Dr. Dukes’ acceptance speech here, and if you’re in Gainesville in January, be sure to attend his Water Institute Distinguished Scholar Presentation: Using Research to Inform Extension for Real World Water Conservation.
The Oklahoma/Miami-Dade Connection
Much of the irrigation technology and maintenance fundamentals that I know I learned while working in South Florida, and the group I’ve worked the closest with while there has been Miami-Dade’s UCU team. So few were more pleased than I this fall when they finally filled their long vacant team leader position with Extension Agent Morgan Hopkins.
At the time of this writing, Ms. Hopkins is four months on the job and doing very well. In fact, look for her to showcase some of the tangible water savings the UCU generates in Miami-Dade this spring at UF’s Water Institute Symposium.

Closing Big
Late fall is conference season for us and this year we were able to attend and present at both WaterSmart Innovations and the Irrigation Show and Education Conference.
I was especially honored to have been invited to collaborate with IA/ASABE during the conference in November on content highlighting the good work of extraordinary researcher Dr. Terry Howell and the E3 Irrigation Program, which annually sponsors students and instructors to attend the event.

Looking Ahead
We’re starting 2016 at full speed. For the Dukes team, SVAEC planning begins in early January, followed by a contractor training on soil moisture sensor use and installation with Tampa Bay Water in February, and the Water Institute Symposium soon after. Check this space for on-going developments! 
In Miami-Dade, the UCU and I already have a slate of three videos in the can awaiting release, and as the work of promoting and educating about conservation and sustainability continues, there will certainly be plans for more. Follow them on Twitter, FaceBook or Instagram and stay tuned!

Monday, December 21, 2015

On the Pathway to Landscaping Success with Miami’s DJ Khaled

By Michael Gutierrez (Miami-Dade U.C.U. partner)

If you’re attuned to pop culture and on social media you know about DJ Khaled – Miami radio personality turned music mogul turned Snapchat phenomena. Every day on his Snapchat account Mr. Khaled offers motivational insights and positive messages like only he can – in the elevator, over breakfast, in the shower, on a jet ski and in the garden.

DJ Khaled: a snap sampling
Just Know
The garden gleanings are what I’m going to focus on here. Averaging two million views per snap, DJ Khaled is easily South Florida’s most prominent landscaping advocate! Mr. Khaled keeps flowers, bamboo, and bromeliads in the backyard - all under the watchful eye of a now famous lion statue. Amidst the bamboo vibes and lion order, there are additional lessons to be learned about good landscape management from DJ Khaled. Here are the top five I’ve gathered this fall.

The Keys
  • "A good sprinkler system is important."
Even in tropical South Florida, supplementing rainfall with irrigation is sometimes necessary. The keys to success: hydrozone your system so turf zones are watered separate from ornamental zones, and if you don’t have a smart irrigation controller, be sure to have a functional rain sensor installed so there is no watering during rain events.
  • "Every day I water my plants. It's a vibe."
The truth is that manually watering your plants is as water efficient as you can get. Why? Because you only water when it's necessary. Further, if you love colorful flowers that require plenty of water, watering these manually while the automated irrigation takes care of the grass will also save water. Conservation is a vibe.

  • "Some days the grass is going to be brown. Don't panic."
Your turf will sometimes develop hot spots (brown areas). This can be indicative of poor irrigation system design, a break or leak somewhere in the zone affecting coverage, or pests/disease. But as DJ Khaled says, don’t panic. Resist the urge to increase the irrigation run time or add chemicals to your turf until you know the cause. Why? Over-watering can promote fungus and over-treating can result in chemicals leaching or running off. The key to success: wet-check your system regularly to stay on top of bad coverage and breaks before hot spots develop.
  • "It rained yesterday so I'm not watering today."
Only irrigate when it's necessary. Smart irrigation controllers, soil moisture sensors and rain sensors can help you eliminate unnecessary watering.
  • "Fruit trees are a vibe."
Recently DJ Khaled planted an orange tree and a star fruit tree in his garden, and there are plans to add a lemon tree and mango tree as well. Why are fruit trees a key to success? They offer shade, attract wildlife to your yard, and will eventually provide delicious edible fruit.

Coming soon: a lemon and mango tree (via Snapchat)
Cloth Talk
Landscaping and landscape maintenance are important industries in South Florida. Miami-Dade's Urban Conservation Unit exists to help promote sustainable landscape practices and facilitate efficient outdoor water use for both residential and commercial properties. In this Herculean undertaking, we’re happy to count DJ Khaled as an ally.

Add DJ Khaled on Snapchat: djkhaled305 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Notes from Long Beach: Irrigation Show and Conference 2015

Earlier this month I attended the Irrigation Association’s Irrigation Show and Education Conference in Long Beach, CA. The UF contingent included me, Bernard Cardenas and Drs. Michael Dukes and Kati Migliaccio. We were among the several thousand experts, contractors, technicians and brand reps whom coursed through the Long Beach Convention Center over seven days.

Like the bat-signal, but for certified irrigation pros!
Nerd Alert
In addition to the usual classes and technical sessions, this year’s event featured an ASABE/IA Irrigation Symposium to showcase peer-reviewed research, and a Drought Summit to strategize around water scarcity.

Soil moisture sensor expert Bernard Cardenas during the first of two presentations
Of course, the symposium is where us researchers shine. We presented on soil moisture sensors, weather-based controller programming, sustainable landscapes and water-use efficiency and smart phone apps for irrigation scheduling and management.

A crowd forms for more info following Dr. Migliaccio's talk on irrigation apps
Roving Reporter
I was in full media mode during conference week – tweeting, periscoping and shooting video for a collaborative project with the Irrigation Foundation’s E3 Program. The E3 program sponsors students and instructors from across the country to attend the IA Conference and immerse themselves in all the industry connections and expertise the week affords one. 
I also had the honor of presenting on social media best practices alongside longtime colleague/mentor Richard Restuccia.

On the Cusp
You cannot report back about the Irrigation Show without mentioning the product expo. Every year the expo floor seems to grow larger and this year was no exception. I was on the hunt for new/interesting urban landscape irrigation products and these days that usually means cloud-based and wireless.
Cloud-based soil moisture sensors are a thing!
I managed to locate a couple of new WaterSense certified timers in this category. I also stumbled upon a soil moisture sensor touting said features. The future looks bright for remotely accessible smart irrigation!

On-site Insight
From my perspective, conferences like IA’s are invaluable as conduits for in-person contact with industry peers. For instance, while gathering content for a high-efficiency nozzle video for Miami-Dade’s Urban Conservation Unit, I learned from the EPA WaterSense team attending the conference that pressure regulating sprinkler (PRS) bodies are a more reliable means for water savings in the landscape.
In fact, WaterSense has plans to certify PRS bodies in the near future. For incentive-based programs like Miami-Dade’s this is a critical new development. And for an irrigation-head like me, well this is the kind of on-site insight that I am ALL about. See you next year in Las Vegas! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

WaterSmart Innovations 2015: Thoughts and Impressions

By Mackenzie Boyer

Full disclosure: WaterSmart Innovations is my favorite conference. I love the focus on real-world utility projects, with a sprinkling of university-generated research (like my own). This was my second time attending, and I’m already thinking of how to return in 2016. What follows are some insights and reflections on my WaterSmart experience this fall.
Speaker badge so you know it's real
Gator Nation Rolls Deep
This year representing the IrriGators in Las Vegas were: Drs. Michael Dukes, Melissa Baum-Haley (’11), Stacia Davis (’14), and myself. Also representing UF was Scott Knight (Environmental Engineering ’15), who had received a Universities Council on Water Resources (UCOWR) scholarship.

From left: Drs. Michael Dukes, Melissa Baum-Haley, Stacia Davis and PhD candidate Mackenzie Boyer
In the Audience
Some of the more memorable sessions I attended included:
Karen Guz’s (San Antonio Water) first presentation was such a well told story that I went back for two more or her talks. I especially liked her anecdotes about conservation efforts well-intended but misguided (like the reuse system with potable backup that used more potable water than if the system had just avoided reuse altogether), or with an ulterior motive (like a certain water tower that doubles as an advertisement). 
San Antonio Water's Karen Guz
I saw several presentations on Cash for Grass programs including Sarah Fleury with Castaic Lake Water Agency (take away message: don’t automatically trust customers when they say they have turf in their landscape) and Melissa Baum-Haley with Municipal Water District of Orange County. Both projects were hugely popular. In MWDOC’s case, paper applications were literally stacking up day after day - the rebates of $2-$8/square foot of turf removed coupled with California’s historic drought made the program too attractive to too many customers.

Watershed Management Group's Kiernan Sikdar
Kiernan Sikdar had me ready to move from Gainesville to Tucson just so I could join in Watershed Management Group’s co-op program. A “barn-raising” model that can teach me how and then help me get a gorgeous landscape that thrives from harvesting on-site water? Sign me up!

Waterless and fabulous: Mackenzie Boyer with urinal
At the WaterSmart product expo, I talked shop with other attendees: “You have AMI data?! I want AMI data!” and “Oh you aggregate your data to the census tract level before running correlations? That’s a great approach!” I also couldn’t help but cuddle up to a urinal in honor of some other unnamed Gator engineers who love urine way too much. 

At the Podium
As for my presentation on water restrictions in Florida's Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, I had to begin with the embarrassing admission that my title - Irrigation water restrictions, not as good as you think - although supported by my preliminary data, was incongruous with the presentation I was about to give. 
Going from two day per week allowable irrigation to one day per week allowable irrigation reduced annual irrigation demand by about 14%. However, these trends don’t hold true for all customers. In a newer part of the City of Tampa, customers actually increased their irrigation when restrictions tightened to fewer days. What’s unique about our study is that the evaluation period is over a decade long, where previous studies on water restrictions have been limited to evaluation periods of two months to two years. 

Best Coast?
I spent a summer during college in Arizona working as an intern with the Indian Health Service. I fell in love with the desert landscape and that dry heat that is absolutely nothing like Florida’s sticky, humid summers. Not quite being able to experience the western environment while in a conference all day, Stacia Davis and I headed out to explore a few parks after the conference ended. 
Standing atop Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, I felt like I could do anything- like maybe even graduate one day. When Stacia and I stopped by Lake Mead, we saw firsthand why over 1,000 professionals attended WaterSmart: Conservation is key. 
You can revisit all the great work presented at WaterSmart Innovations 2015 here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The SERC Experience: My Summer on the Chesapeake Bay

Rather than being knee-deep in water quality research at my home base in Gainesville, I spent this past summer at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center located in Edgewater, MD, on the iconic Chesapeake Bay. 

Research activities at SERC encompass virtually all aspects of coastal ecosystems: wetland biogeochemistry, marine biodiversity and invasions, plant and animal population dynamics, water quality, effects of global change and land use, and more! You can check out highlights of SERC research on twitter @SmithsonianEnv.

Step One: Get a GRIP
So, how did I end up in Maryland? The story begins with the National Science Foundation (NSF). Every year, NSF funds graduate studies through their Graduate Research Fellowship Program. NSF recently created a new initiative called the Graduate Research Internship Program (GRIP). NSF GRIP offers NSF Graduate Research Fellows the opportunity to expand their research and spend a few months at a national lab or federal agency. I received a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship at the beginning of my graduate studies, so I was eligible for this new internship program - I applied, and I got a GRIP! 

The Global Change Research Wetland
During my 10-week stay this summer, I joined the Biogeochemistry Lab, whose Principal Investigator is Dr. Pat Megongial. Much of the Biogeochemistry Lab’s research takes place at the Kirkpatrick Marsh, which is also referred to as the Global Change Research Wetland. The Global Change Research Wetland is the world’s premier field site for research on tidal wetland responses to global change, and has been home to experiments and observations on the interactions between salt marsh plant communities, CO2, nitrogen, and sea level for almost 30 years. Essentially, researchers at the Global Change Research Wetland are increasing our understanding of the fate tidal marshes face in a future world.

Aerial view of the Global Change Research Wetland at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, taken by Dr. Chuck Gallegos.

Every summer, the experimental chambers in the marsh are comprehensively surveyed. Data collected during these surveys are used to understand how experimental and natural changes influence the marsh plant community, which can then assist efforts to understand how these changes might scale to other tidal marsh systems. One of my internship goals was to get my feet wet and hands dirty in Global Change Research Wetland activities (figuratively and literally!), and I was not disappointed! In July, I had the opportunity to assist with a few aspects of the aforementioned marsh survey, including stem density and dimension measurements.

Top to bottom: in the marsh and field station (credit: SERC)

How to MarshCycle
As part of my internship, I was also graciously included in a project called MARSHCYCLE. MARSHCYCLE investigators – including Dr. Maria Tzortziou of CCNY, lead Principal Investigator, and co-Principal Investigators Drs. Pat Neale and Pat Megonigal at SERC, among other scientists – are integrating field, modeling, and remote sensing approaches to disentangle and quantify key carbon processes taking place along the wetland-estuary boundary (where land meets water). My specific role was to evaluate the hydrology of the main tidal creek flooding and draining the Global Change Research Wetland. Information about flow patterns can be used to complete mass balances of water quality constituents entering and leaving the marsh, as well as to clarify mechanisms related to the release and capture of these constituents within the marsh.

The mouth of the Global Change Research Wetland tidal creek. 
On Transducers
To carry out this analysis, the creek needed to be instrumented with flow and depth measurement devices. The selected flow meter was equipped with acoustic and pressure transducers. Acoustic transducers emit sound pulses that bounce off of particles and debris floating in the water. The instrument measures the amount of time it takes for the sound pulses to return to the acoustic transducer after having bounced off of the particles in the water, and can then calculate the velocity of water moving through the creek. This measurement principle is based on the Doppler effect. The pressure transducer measures the surrounding pressure, which corresponds to the depth of the water column. Flow can then be calculated by knowing the depth and velocity of the water.

Taking flow measurements at the Global Change Research Wetland tidal creek.
The flow meter was situated on the creek bottom about 1.5 meters below the water surface.
Collected data are still being analyzed, but we’re starting to see some interesting patterns using time series analysis approaches. Stay tuned for results in the future!

Growing in Work
This internship experience was wonderful in so many ways. I was able to get involved in SERC research and outreach happenings, gain new colleagues and mentors, work in a cutting-edge environmental research facility, learn about water resources issues in a different part of the country, and make some wonderful friends! 

Unpacking our vessel after taking a flow transect of the Rhode River.
Graduate students often don’t create time for these external opportunities because of the various pressures associated with research and school, but I can think of no better supplement to my scientist-engineer training than to have experienced a different work culture and learned from a group of world-renowned scientists outside of my immediate academic circle.

Until next time: A Chesapeake Bay reminder...

Natalie Nelson is a PhD student in Agricultural and Biological Engineering at UF. Her previous IrriGator contributions covered the Annual International Meetings of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (here and here).