UF/IFAS is always working on the future.



J. Scott Angle: UF/IFAS is always working on the future

October 2, 2020

UF/IFAS is always working on the future. We do it best as a team, and for the past 18 months our great team has been working on what lawns and landscapes should look like 20 years from now.

The Future of Urban Landscapes in Florida working group has 39 members, including engineers, ecologists, turf scientists, soil and water scientists, social scientists, entomologists, communicators and others. That’s a huge diversity of thought to help address such a complex challenge. A facilitator is channeling their discussion toward consensus. We’re not there yet, but we took this first step knowing it would be a long journey.

One point of agreement is current urban landscapes are too resource-intensive in the way they are installed and maintained. What the group wants to work out is how to change that.

The challenge has been codified in Water 2070 from 1000 Friends of Florida: “The single most effective strategy to reduce water demand in Florida is to significantly reduce the amount of water used for landscape irrigation.”

Even though we’re talking about 20 years down the road, there’s urgency to act now. Planting decisions made today will last for a generation. It’s a lot easier to get lawns and landscapes right the first time than it is to persuade homeowners, businesses, HOAs and public agencies to rip out what they have and replace it with greenscapes which require less water, fertilizer and chemicals.

We don’t know enough yet about alternatives to high-maintenance landscapes. In fact, building this team has already been productive as each expert learns what his or her colleagues are already doing. For example:

  • Wendy Wilber, the UF/IFAS Master Gardener volunteer program coordinator, has a “discovery gardens” project in Lake County to demonstrate groundcovers which require less water.
  • Eban Bean is having some success with soil amendments to decrease nutrient run-off.
  • Bryan Unruh and Kevin Kenworthy are breeding turfgrass for varieties which require less irrigation.
  • Michael Dukes has long worked on the Tampa Bay Water Wise Regional Rebate Program to incentivize homeowners, builders, commercial property owners and others to take proactive steps to reduce water use on their lawns and landscapes. 

Very different approaches, but a common thread – participation of FNGLA members. We know no large-scale change will occur without your participation. FNGLA is also going to have to play a role in educating the public. We’ll need behavior change to get us to where we need to be. 

Researchers don’t talk with homeowners every day about what to plant; nursery owners and landscape professionals do, as do Extension agents and Master Gardener volunteers. We’ll need the cooperation of HOAs and others who can help us document the impact of alternative landscapes so we know what is working. 

Our work with FNGLA is crucial to educate urban populations. We can’t build enough reservoirs to meet the demands of nearly 5 million more Florida residents by 2040. We need to “create” water storage through conservation that makes construction of more reservoirs unnecessary. 

Rightfully or not, fingers will point at us when we experience water use restrictions, harmful algal blooms and closed springs. 

Water is a key to Florida’s future. Our team is at the center of planning for that future. Our optimism comes in part from knowing you are part of our team.

Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

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