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UF/IFAS Quenches Thirst for Water Focus

Friday, February 17, 2017
Article by: Jack Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, University of Florida

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It can take two to three years from the time I decide new scientists are needed to focus on a Florida challenge to the time I can actually make them employees of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

That’s why UF/IFAS got started years ago expanding our expertise in water. It’s always been essential to our day-to-day lives, of course. In 2016, there was increased public focus on how critical it is to our future.

• A survey of Floridians by the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education found that more than 4 in 5 Floridians identified water as a highly or extremely important issue. Water ranked even higher than the economy.

• The Water 2070 report concludes that without major efforts in conservation and compact development, we cannot support the agricultural productivity and population increases projected in the next 50 years.

• The state legislature made water legislation the first item on its 2016 agenda. Regardless of the merits or faults of that the approved law, it marked water as one of the state’s most prominent political issues.

And in 2016, UF/IFAS hired numerous water experts to make sure our response to the water challenge is guided by science.

• We hired five regional specialized water Extension agents, who will work with state agencies to devise and communicate ways to protect the quality and quantity of our supply.

• Our new state-funded faculty hires include experts such as Jorge Barrera, who will analyze large data sets from water utilities, urban water engineer Eban Bean, and geospatial analysis expert Basil Iannone.

You can meet Barrera, Bean, and some of the new Extension specialists at the 2017 Urban Landscape Summit on campus in Gainesville on March 16 & 17.

It’s the second annual summit, organized by Michael Dukes of the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology. It brings many of our water experts together from across the state for discussions of irrigation, fertilizer bans, water-saving smartphone apps, consumer perceptions, reducing algal blooms, and more, all underpinned by an ethos of conservation.

Register for the summit. The summit is yet another example of how UF/IFAS continues to establish itself as the state’s leader in water science.

Water is an issue so fraught with politics that good policy has to rely on neutral brokers of information. Public land-grant universities such as UF are positioned to serve in this role because we seek discovery, not profit. Our comprehensive expertise also enables us to assemble scientists from a wide variety of fields to focus on a single problem.

The summit won’t be a water-only affair, but water will flow through much of the agenda. It will also be a debut of sorts for our expanding water brain trust. Of course, Dukes and our other established leaders in conservation will participate in the summit as well.

I’m proud that Dukes has invited me to open the summit. It gives me the opportunity to reemphasize the UF/IFAS commitment to conservation. It will also be an opportunity to talk about what Water 2070 recommends – more support for Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ to alter Florida’s unsustainable and growing course for thirst.

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