GAINESVILLE — Your neighbors and peers probably care more about water conservation than one might assume, and that may mean they’re open to some new ideas about using less water, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher says.
Laura Warner, who will publish a new study on UF/IFAS Extension water conservation programs, thinks these neighborly discussions could prove fruitful.
“You may not notice the ways someone conserves, but they may already be taking action to not waste water by using good irrigation practices, and they may be open to some new ideas if you strike up a conversation about how you save water in the home landscape,” said Warner, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of agricultural education and communications.
Conserving water is critical because about half of the nation’s domestic water use goes toward landscape irrigation, according to a 2016 report by scientists in Colorado. In places such as Central Florida, that amount can exceed 60 percent. In fact, water conservation on the home landscape could save 46 million gallons per day, in Florida, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The new UF/IFAS research showed that people who participate in UF/IFAS Extension water conservation programs are more likely to conserve water in their home landscape. But the study also found that even people who don’t seek out UF/IFAS Extension water conservation programs want to use less water.
Warner did not expect to see the latter finding.
“I was surprised to find that non-participants had equally positive attitudes surrounding landscape water conservation and equal perceived ability to adopt the practices and technologies that save water in the home landscape,” Warner said. “To me, this reveals a lot of potential for encouraging conservation among those who don’t attend Extension programs.”
To attract more participants to UF/IFAS Extension water conservation programs, she sees fertile ground in growing urban areas. Warner envisions partnering with organizations that reach people who normally don’t attend the water conservation programs.
For the study, Warner led a group of UF/IFAS researchers who conducted an online survey of 653 Floridians; 199 had participated in UF/IFAS Extension water conservation programs, while 454 had not.
Among other findings, the study showed that people who participate in UF/IFAS Extension water conservation programs enjoy social support for conserving water. Specifically, their families and friends may use rain gauges and irrigate properly, among other practices, and thus, they live in a culture that supports their doing the same. Additionally, people who participate in these Extension programs feel a strong, personal obligation to conserve water. It’s part of their core values, Warner said.
People who don’t participate either are not surrounded by people who actively conserve water or they perceive that they don’t, Warner said. “Their peer groups do not talk about saving water, and they don’t think anyone expects them to do so.”
The study will be published in the December issue of the journal HortTechnology.