Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Charles Barrett and Understanding the Importance of Water in Florida

This month marks a year for Dr. Charles Barrett as water regional specialized agent (RSA) for UF/IFAS Northeast District. This district spans Jacksonville, the Suwannee River Valley and the Nature Coast. I caught up with him during Urban Landscape Summit 2017 and he was kind enough to speak with IrriGator about his RSA experience thus far.

Dr. Charles Barrett - Regional Specialized Agent, water resources
What attracted you to the Water RSA position?
CB: I did my PhD research in agriculture (ag) irrigation and best management practices for water and nutrient management. That’s what got me interested in it. And being a Florida resident my whole life I understand the importance of water to Florida. If there’s something I can do to help out I’m excited to do that.

What are the most critical water issues in your district?
CB: We have some new basin management action plans coming into place. My role with IFAS extension is education about what this means for our residents in the district. It’s a very rural area, so I'm getting the message out to farmers and small communities so that they understand what the implication of a basin management action plan is and how they can get prepared for it.

Dr. Barrett (middle) presents at an irrigation demo
Also, out of the 31 listed Outstanding Florida Springs (OFS), we have 17 of them in my district. That’s a large majority. OFS in the new water bill got special attention so if you have an OFS in your basin management action plan you have even more stuff you have to pay attention to. There’s a lot coming down the pike and I feel there’s not a whole lot of education going on about that. This is where we step in and give the science and information. I feel we have to do a much better job of getting information out to people.

Being almost a year into this position are you satisfied with how the work is coming along?
CB: I feel like I’m starting to get the lay of the land which is the most critical part in any job. There was nobody before me to tell me what I needed to do - which is exciting but sometimes a challenge because you’re kind of making up your own road map as you go. You’ve got to do a needs assessment and figure out where the big fires are and start working on putting those fires out first. In my area, being that it’s predominantly ag, a lot of the identification of the nutrient loads in the rivers and in the springs has been identified as ag-related. That’s the big fire right now, to get those guys to understand how important best management practices are. How it’s not only important to enroll, but the rule has now changed that you have to verify your implementation of it. That means good record-keeping. It’s a lot of education on that.

Read Dr. Barrett's article on soil sensors & irrigation scheduling
If I can say anything is a success, it’s just making relationships right now – working with the water management district, working with FDACS, working with DEP and the Suwannee River Partnership has been huge up there. We meet regularly and we talk about these issues. We have a really tight-knit group. So I think the biggest success so far is that I’ve been able to get on board with those guys and to work hand-in-hand with the guys that are trying to get this information out. We’re all working together. I’d like to see more success on the side of getting things done, but that comes with time.

Before I met you I knew you from Twitter. Can you talk about why you joined Twitter and some benefits of maintaining a digital presence?
CB: I created an account on Twitter right when I first started as a water RSA. I went through the professional development academy, or new agent training, and it was brought to my attention how that media stream could be useful in your career. I figured like-minded people might find some of the stuff that I find interesting interesting to them. That’s why I got on it. I didn’t think anybody was looking at it! I see you on there with IrriGator and you’re always picking up stuff that I miss so it’s awesome. If I find something, or you guys find something, we can all share it along. I thought I’d never be on Twitter, I’m not a social media type of person. But it’s kind of cool.

Read profiles on Water RSAs James Fletcher and Dr. Lisa Krimsky.

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