Monday, February 23, 2015

Water and the Florida Public

At IrriGator we invest considerable time and resources into communicating research-based information on water-use and water management. Rare, however, is the opportunity to gauge how the public is receiving and digesting these efforts. Enter the UF/IFAS PIE Center’s annual Public Opinion of Water in Florida survey.

The Center’s survey polled 749 Florida residents on a number of water-related topics. The ensuing report paints a helpful picture about what the public knows and doesn't know and where messaging and communication can be improved or adjusted.  A sample of these findings include: 

  • Water ranks 3rd, below health care and the economy, on a priority list of those surveyed
  • Few of those surveyed felt water quality was getting better in any of Florida's water bodies
  • 85% of those surveyed indicated they were likely/very likely to pay attention to a water news item
  • 72% of those surveyed are willing to pay more for their water bills if it would ensure adequate water resources for Florida's future

When the chips are down

"I think the public generally understands
 water conservation when they are affected by it. 
That is, when they don’t have enough water, 
the importance hits home. Those affected 
by the drought in California right now 
would be a good example."

In a recent interview for Landscape Management, Dr. Michael Dukes, director of the UF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology, addresses some aspects of successful water communication. Namely, context counts. When water scarcity is a factor, the public is generally more receptive to messaging. And in drought circumstances conservation messaging tends to saturate the media. 

Knowing what we don't know about what you think you know about water: an infographic
Further, Dr. Dukes also notes how the development of a water efficient ethic within the Green Industry coincided with implementation of water conserving programs, devices and codes at both the manufacturing and agency levels. There are advantages to being able to communicate important information from a non-crisis position.

As someone whose work encompasses Extension and communication, the most useful gems among the Center’s survey results are Figure 33 and Figure 35. 

Extension? What's that? (courtesy: Public Opinions of Water in Florida)
For me, Fig. 33 (above) confirms the shortcomings of engaging the public by way of what are often understaffed, inadequately resourced and marginal channels throughout the state. On the other hand, Fig. 35 (below) is fraught with possibility, suggesting an accessible audience consuming content online - a multimedia platform today’s educators are well-versed in utilizing. 

See you on the interwebs (courtesy: Public Opinions of Water in Florida)
In a great article addressing the water survey, Jenny Adler of the UF Water Institute said it best: “We are given an incredible opportunity (which will also be a challenge) to share current water research and knowledge about water issues through these identified outlets.”

The PIE Center recently hosted a webinar on water issues and the implications for agriculture featuring Dr. Kati Migliaccio and Dr. Alexa Lamm. View the webinar here.

The PIE Center recently hosted a webinar featuring Dr. Michael Dukes addressing the landscape water use aspects of the survey. View the webinar here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Polk County: If You’re Into Water, You’ll Love “Living at the Lakes”

Living at the Lakes (LAtL) is a program offered in Polk County, Florida, by Lakes Education/Action Drive (LE/AD) and UF IFAS Extension Polk County. Live on or near a lake? Use lakes frequently for recreation? Interested in learning more about our local hydrology? Then LAtL is for you!
Living at the Lakes is a free program offered twice a year, three sessions at a time. Each session has a unique theme and includes a short presentation and ample time for audience questions and discussion.

Reserve your spot
Staying Informed
LAtL presentations are structured around frequently asked questions, such as:
  • Why is my lake green?
  • Do plants attract snakes?
  • Is algae bad for the environment?
  • What kind of bird is this?
  • Are alligators dangerous?

Because lakes!
In addition to presentations, several utilities and governmental agencies set up booths to share additional information on water conservation, invasive plants, wildlife, and Florida-Friendly Landscaping™.

Read the flier and register today
You Are Invited
Living at the Lakes is currently scheduled for March 3, 5, and 10, from 6-8pm at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland. If you are interested in attending, register here. The agenda currently includes presentations on:

  • March 3
  • Know the Flow! An Introduction to Water in Central Florida
  • How Rain Gardens Help with Water Quality

  • March 5
  • Why is my Lake Green? An Introduction to Water Quality Issues
  • Fish Facts

  • March 10
  • Lake Water Quality: We’re All To Blame, We All Can Help
  • The Importance of Lakefront Vegetation

See you there!

About the author:
Shannon Carnevale is the Natural Resources Agent for UF/IFAS Extension Polk County – working on educational programming related to Polk County’s natural resources and environment.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Engage. Communicate. Educate: Bringing Extension Into the Digital Age

UF/IFAS Extension Agents and Master Gardeners recently attended an in-service training focused on learning social media basics and getting hands-on time with several UF/IFAS apps. The IrriGator project also took center stage in both website and blog form.

The IrriGator Project: All irrigation. All the time. All across FL. 
Knowledge on-the-go
What do weather, horticulture and irrigation have in common? UF/IFAS has apps for those! My FL Farm Weather keeps growers attuned to weather information from across the state. FL Gardening Solutions lets the user create a virtual garden, and then periodically push notifies handy information about garden plants for care and maintenance. 

What's cooking? Smart irrigation!
Smartirrigation Turf is like having a weather-based controller on your mobile device. The user creates an irrigation system, programming geographic information and system parameters, and then the app does all the work – push notifying irrigation scheduling adjustments based on details about the local weather and your system.

Sharing is caring
As a means for promoting projects and expanding the reach of educational content, social media platforms can be very useful for Extension Agents. 

Orange County Extension's Jennifer Pelham defines the terms.
Training attendees learned the ABCs of Twitter, with many live-tweeting during the event using #waterIST. Then IFAS Communications’ Social Media Manager Tiffani Stephenson talked about how to manage a social account successfully and the benefits of “official account” status. She also shared her top 5 Twitter tips for Extension Agents.

This is a call…
A training is valuable insofar as it prepares you to put a useful skill into practice. Training attendees whom braved the hours to the event's conclusion enjoyed a spirited presentation on blogging. 

...and by spirited I mean there were bunnies
The takeaway: blogs offer an opportunity to share and educate in detail about your field of expertise. And because the web is teeming with great content to help make your posts as polished and engaging as possible, there’s no reason to not get in the game.

Fire up those phablets
Initiate your own platform or benefit from IrriGator’s existing infrastructure and editorial guidance. Extension Agents are invited to contribute water-related content to IrriGator! Contact Kati Migliaccio with an article pitch or to claim a publishing date.