Tuesday, December 27, 2016

On the Cutting Edge of Water Saving Science: A Look Back at 2016

By Michael Gutierrez

We're not usually in the habit of ending the year having to clarify what it is we do and why, but here we are. From my perspective, 2016 was a remarkable year in water research. Summer water quality issues in South Florida put our water in the national headlines for weeks (the debate rolls on). Then projections about future water demand in Florida underscored the need for continued work around water-use efficiency. Meanwhile our group of UF/IFAS water specialists on campus and around the state remained focused on providing solutions for present and future challenges, and I kept doing my best to find unique ways to communicate those efforts to you. What follows are some highlights from 2016.

Water researchers: Maria Zamora, Mackenzie Boyer, Eliza Breder, Michael Dukes & Bernard Cardenas
Statewide Work
One of the measures of successful research is how well it can move from design and data to real-world impact. For the Dukes research group (pictured above), the smart irrigation study in Orange County continued to inform policy this year when the Board of County Commissioners formally recognized the water-saving capacity of smart technology. There is already work around creating a watering restriction variance for smart device users

This year also saw UF/IFAS go even bigger on promoting and coordinating water-focused work in Florida by creating 5 positions for regional specialized agents in water. Each agent concentrates on the water issues specific to their sector. This year we profiled Dr. Lisa Krimsky from the South District. We’ll continue to profile the other water RSAs in 2017 to learn about the water issues of note in their sectors. In the meantime, keep up with their efforts on Twitter.

Irrigation Tools and How to Get Them
In my experience as a water resources tech with UF/IFAS I have never seen more interest in basic landscape irrigation know-how among IFAS staff around the state than in 2016. I wrote about one instance of assisting an agent in Lake County earlier this year. But we had other requests for help that we were not able to address. Fortunately, some of the best irrigation-focused programs in the state are currently lending their expertise to fashioning workshops where extension agents can learn irrigation system audit basics. How do I know they’re the best? Well in 2016 I had the privilege to work with both of them.  

Miami-Dade’s Urban Conservation Unit administers an irrigation rebate program as large as its region requires. This program is a model of UF/IFAS and utility collaboration. Further, despite their whopping load of field work they remain largely accessible online and eager to share their knowledge
On the Southwest coast of Florida is Manatee County Extension. Their mobile irrigation lab also executes an irrigation rebate program, the details of which I was so impressed with that I requested a ride-along this summer while in the area on other field work. The result of that meeting was a short video that tries to do some justice to how effective that team is in educating the public about water-use efficiency.
As more utilities move toward incentivizing smart irrigation technology, the demand for trainings and workshops for area irrigation contractors continues to grow. That’s where we come in. In 2016 the Dukes research group conducted 3 trainings in Southwest/Central Florida on proper installation and use of soil moisture sensors and weather-based irrigation controllers. Look for us in your area in 2017.

Dr. Kati Migliaccio at ASABE AIM 2016
Home Team
This year ASABE held their annual international meetings (AIM) in Orlando. Most of our water group presented research there and I had the opportunity to document really exciting student competitions like robotics and the fountain wars. AIM also served as an occasion for recognizing noteworthy work as Dr. Michael Dukes was honored with the John Deere Gold Medal and Dr. Kati Migliaccio won for Outstanding Associate Editor (pictured above). 

This was not the only honor Dr. Migliaccio would receive in 2016. This year the UF Water Institute recognized Dr. Migliaccio as a Faculty Fellow. Watch her Distinguished Scholar Seminar on the future of water management here.

For me collaborating with students is one of the more rewarding aspects of work in academia. At ASABE, UF ABE robotics team leader (and the future of precision ag) Amanda DeCanio was integral to me being able to complete the short video I was tasked with. Later, Ms. DeCanio agreed to reflect on her ASABE AIM experience for IrriGator.
UF ABE PhD Candidate and NSF Graduate Research Fellow Natalie Nelson continued contributing excellent entries to IrriGator this year – taking our readership along on her treks to conferences and researcher gatherings across the country. And while I missed my first Irrigation Show and Education Conference since 2012 this year, Food and Resource Economics PhD Candidate Maria Vrachioli attended as an E3 Learner and chronicled her experience with the wider irrigation industry for us as well.  

2017: You Are Invited!

The fall of 2016 found us dedicating considerable lab time to pressure regulating sprinkler bodies. This work helped inform what will eventually result in EPA WaterSense certification of spray sprinkler bodies (SSB) as water-saving devices. Despite the solitary nature of this lab work – research associate Bernard Cardenas toiling at the testing apparatus for hours with different sprinkler brands - we found inventive ways to bring our audience/the greater public into the lab with us. Similarly this summer, Dr. Michael Dukes and I translated a sensor wiring mishap and some great corrective work in Pasco County into an elucidating dialogue about water saving technology and perception. Look for this piece to go national in 2017’s first issue of Irrigation Today

We’re going to stay on the cutting edge of irrigation research because that’s where we need to be. See you in the new year!

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