Clean water is vital for our health, the environment, and the sustainability of our communities. Pollution and contaminants can harm aquatic life, disrupt ecosystems, and upset the natural balance of our surroundings. By taking steps to maintain and enhance water quality, we ensure clean water for ourselves and future generations while preserving our precious environment. While the state addresses broader concerns, each of us can contribute to better water quality right at home. Here are some easy tips for improving water quality in your own backyard:
UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones
Fertilize Appropriately: Plants need nutrients to grow, and proper fertilization is essential for their health. Following recommended rates and application schedules, as provided by UF/IFAS, can help prevent nutrient runoff and leaching, which can lead to water pollution in Florida. Always follow the instructions on the fertilizer label and adhere to local fertilizer regulations. When seeking professional landscaping assistance, make sure the provider is a licensed fertilizer applicator.
Maintain Your Septic Tank: Approximately one-third of Florida’s wastewater is treated by septic systems. However, many of these systems fail to adequately treat wastewater, releasing nutrients into our groundwater and surface waters. Regular inspections and pumping every 3-5 years are crucial to ensuring your system functions correctly. Dispose of human waste properly, maintain your drain field, and use water efficiently to keep your septic system in good working order.
UF/IFAS Photo by Samantha Howley
Care for Your Stormwater Pond: Stormwater ponds play a vital role in treating runoff water from neighborhoods. Look for plants along the pond’s banks, as they help filter nutrients from the water. These plants also act as a buffer between the pond and surrounding areas, such as lawns, roads, or sidewalks. Avoid removing or mowing these plants. If you live near a pond, maintain a 10-foot buffer between the pond and any areas where you apply fertilizer or herbicides to minimize the risk of pollutants reaching the pond and affecting its water quality.
Use Pesticides Wisely: Unwanted pesticides in water can harm the water’s quality. Reducing pesticide use benefits your family and the environment. By using fewer pesticides, you help preserve biodiversity, protect beneficial insects, and maintain ecosystem health.
Water Efficiently: A great way to conserve water is by being smart about how you care for your garden. To start, group plants with similar water needs together and make sure your watering system is set up correctly. Irrigation systems are designed to work alongside natural rain, so if rain is in the forecast, hold off on watering. To figure out when your plants need water, keep an eye out for signs of wilting in your grass or plants. When you do water, it’s best to do it in the morning to minimize water loss through evaporation. When you can, use a watering can, pail, or hose for precise watering. Regularly inspect your irrigation system for leaks, clogs, or breaks. Ensure that all sprinklers are directing water on your plants, not on the sidewalk.
UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones
Improving local water quality is essential for safeguarding our natural resources and the well-being of our communities. By adopting these simple strategies, you can actively contribute to reducing water pollution and preserving the beauty of our local waterways. For more information and guidance on improving water quality at home, don’t hesitate to contact your local UF/IFAS Extension. Together, we can make a positive impact on our environment and future generations.
Despite its name, giant salvinia (Salvinia molesta) is actually pretty small. The floating plant starts out with a cluster of leaves no bigger than a dime. They don’t stay that way, though, and perhaps their outsized influence and spread gives the “giant” a little more credence.
Giant salvinia is an invasive aquatic plant that was introduced to the United States as an ornamental plant (for aquariums and backyard ponds) from South America. Once it managed to escape to the wild, however, salvinia really took off. More than 20 states report salvinia popping up in their waters, although Texas and Louisiana seem to have the biggest battles with it. The plant has choked up entire freshwater lakes and sections of rivers, requiring a major eradication effort just to regain access to the water. Even small craft like kayaks and canoes cannot make it through a water body clogged with this plant. It is often spread by small pieces lodging in boat motors and trailers, so if you boat frequently in an area of known salvinia, be sure to remove any fragments of the plant once you are back on land. Preventing the spread from one water body to another is crucial.
Our native birds, fish, and aquatic mammals don’t eat giant salvinia—it appears not to have much nutritional value—and therefore its growth goes unchecked. The thick mats of plant growth block sunlight into the water column, preventing other aquatic plants from growing. Die-offs of large numbers of salvinia can eat up oxygen levels in the water, causing fish kills.
There are several approaches to managing the plant. Mechanical or hand removal can take out significant amounts of salvinia, but is ineffective in the long run. Any small piece of chopped up plant left behind in the process will regrow into new spreading plants, so leaving any fragments in the water ends up increasing the population. More effective methods include applying herbicides or using a biocontrol insect called the salvinia weevil. This South American beetle (Cyrtobagous salviniae) is very small (only 2 mm as an adult) but feeds exclusively on salvinia plants, stunting their growth and causing them to sink underwater. A well-established salvinia weevil population can effectively manage large infestations of the plant, dropping coverage by 90%.
One natural check to unfettered growth in our area is that salvinia tends to thrive only in freshwater or very low salinity water bodies. We have identified populations of salvinia in the upper reaches of local bayous in Escambia County, but as salinity levels increase closer to the bay, the plant seems unable to establish itself.
Identification of giant salvinia is rather fascinating, as you need a hand lens to definitively distinguish it from a very similar nonnative species called water spangles or water fern (Salvinia minima). Both species have small clear-white, upright hairs covering the leaves. When examined closely, the observer will note that in giant salvinia that double pairs of hairs form a structure very similar to an egg beater, whereas in water spangles the leaf hairs do not connect.
If you think you see giant salvinia in a local water body, we would love to know. It is an aggressive invasive plant that is relatively new to the area, and we have a chance to keep this from spreading with your help. What can you do?
Contact the Escambia County Division of Water Quality and Land Management – (850) 595-3496
Contact the Escambia County Extension Office – (850) 475-5230 ext. 1111
Are you a Florida homeowner connected to a private well and/or septic system? Do you know want to learn more about your water and wastewater management systems at home?
If so, please join the UF/IFAS Central and Northwest Florida water resources regional specialized agents Yilin Zhuang and Andrea Albertin, in our four free private well and septic system webinars in February and March:
Thursday, February 9 at 2:00 p.m.: Private Wells 101
Thursday, February 16 at 2:00 p.m.: Septic System 101
Thursday, February 23 at 2:00 p.m.: Private Well Care Before and After Storms
Thursday, March 2 at 2:00 p.m.: Septic System Care Before and After Storms
After completing the webinars, attendees will also receive free mail-in well water screening for total coliform bacteria and E. coli.
GUEST AUTHOR: PRUDENCE CASKEY – 4-H Agent in Santa Rosa County
The hot, Florida summer is approaching, and we all need to make sure we focus on hydration in the heat. Dehydration is very common in hot, humid environments. Many people do not drink the recommended amount of water. Many of us have our coffee in the morning and unless we go out to lunch and someone gives us water, we seldom think about water during the day. Another confusing concept is how much water we should drink. Growing up we were told to get eight glasses of water a day. That is 64 ounces. Let’s see if that adage still holds true today.
Animals are well aware of the need for water. Photo: Prudence Caskey
How much water should I drink?
The best way to calculate how many ounces of water to drink is to multiply your weight by .67 or 67%. For example, a person weighing 150 pounds would need 100½ ounces or a little over 12½ cups. On the other hand, a person weighing 200 pounds would need 134 ounces or 16¾ cups.
Is that all the water I need?
No, as you sweat, you lose the water that you have already consumed. If you are sweating for 30 minutes, you need to replenish your hydration with 12 additional ounces of fluid.
What fluid should I drink?
The main thing when it comes to hydration, is to remember, just because it is wet, does not mean you are being hydrated. Different fluids are absorbed by our bodies differently. Some alcoholic beverages remove hydration from our bodies as we drink them. Below is an example of how our bodies absorb some common beverages:
Water absorbed at 100%
Sparkling Water absorbed at 100%
Skim Milk is absorbed at 90%
Buttermilk is absorbed at 90%
Whole Milk is absorbed at 80%
Apple Juice is absorbed at 88%
Decaffeinated Coffee is absorbed at 90%
Coffee is absorbed at 80%
Sports Drinks absorbed at 50%
Energy Drink absorbed at 40%
Wine is absorbed at negative 150%
Beer is absorbed at negative 60%
Sake is absorbed at negative 180%
Liquor is absorbed at negative 300%
This is a huge concept to grasp, if you plan on being out at the beach with your friends this summer. With this example, a well-hydrated 150-pound person consumes the required 100½ ounces of fluid. Then at a gathering, they have three, glasses of wine. The standard five ounces per glass would mean they have removed 22½ ounces from their hydration after drinking only 15 ounces of wine. Be cognoscente of what you add to your coolers this year.
What are the signs of dehydration?
There are many signs our bodies will give us to signal dehydration. Headache, nausea, and muscle pains are common. However, the most common sign of dehydration is thirst. That’s right, if you are thirsty, it is your body’s way of letting you know you need fluids. Just be careful which fluids you chose this summer when you are out and enjoying the Florida sun.
The local Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow network is seeking interested citizen scientists to participate in the collecting weather data. See the notice below from local coordinator, Larry McDonald, for more information:
Citizen scientists interested in collecting rain data utilized by organizations all over the country use this type of rain gauge. Photo credit: Larry McDonald, CoCoRAHS
Weather forecasting depends on taking readings and measurements from the atmosphere. And it’s not just professionals, like meteorologists, who measure rainfall, temperatures, and humidity levels. You can, too! The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow network (CoCoRaHS) allows everyday citizens to participate in weather data collection by measuring daily precipitation/rainfall totals at their own homes or workplaces. Using a special rain gauge that provides great detail in detecting rain amounts, CoCoRaHS observers submit rain observations online to a national network… along with over 20,000 participants in the U.S., Canada, and the Bahamas. Precipitation amounts are then evaluated for many needs by national, regional, and local weather forecasters, researchers, drought and flood monitoring, and agricultural interests. Rainfall data submitted can also be used in forecasting to predict the possibility of flash flooding for local flood prone areas.
A CoCoRaHS observer simply needs to purchase the approved rain gauge (costing from $30 to $40), mount the gauge in an open area away from roofs, fences, and vegetation, and simply collect rain that falls directly from the sky over a 24-hour period. Once each day, between 5:30 AM and 9:00 AM, the gauge is checked for rain with the amount recorded and submitted to the CoCoRaHS website. Missing a day or more is okay, but the more you report, the better the overall data becomes for your area. New and active CoCoRaHS observers are needed throughout Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.
Those interested in possibly joining CoCoRaHS as an observer can obtain more information by visiting https://cocorahs.org/. You can also contact the CoCoRaHS local volunteer coordinator for Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties by emailing email@example.com
Jackson Blue Springs discharging from the Floridan Aquifer. Jackson County, FL. Image: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS Extension.
Florida has one of the largest concentrations of freshwater springs in the world. More than 1000 have been identified statewide, and here in the Florida Panhandle, more than 250 have been found. Not only are they an important source of potable water, springs have enormous recreational and cultural value in our state. There is nothing like taking a cool swim in the crystal-clear waters of these unique, beautiful systems.
How do springs form?
We have so many springs in Florida because of the state’s geology. Florida is underlain by thick layers of limestone (calcium carbonate) and dolomite (calcium magnesium carbonate) that are easily dissolved by rainwater that percolates into the ground. Rainwater is naturally slightly acidic (with a pH of about 5 to 5.6), and as it moves through the limestone and dolomite, it dissolves the rock and forms fissures, conduits, and caves that can store water. In areas where the limestone is close to the surface, sinkholes and springs are common. Springs form when groundwater that is under pressure flows out through natural openings in the ground. Most of our springs are found in North and North-Central Florida, where the limestone and dolomite are found closest to the surface.
Springs are windows to the Floridan Aquifer, which supplies most of Florida’s drinking water. Image: Ichetucknee Blue Hole, A. Albertin.
These thick layers of limestone and dolomite that are below us, with pores, fissures, conduits, and caves that store water, make up the Floridan Aquifer. The Floridan Aquifer includes all of Florida and parts of Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama. The thickness of the aquifer varies widely, ranging from 250 ft. thick in parts of Georgia, to about 3,000 ft. thick in South Florida. The Floridan is one of the most productive aquifer systems in the world. It provides drinking water to about 11 million Floridians and is recharged by rainfall.
How are springs classified?
Springs are commonly classified by their discharge or flow rate, which is measured in cubic feet or cubic meters per second. First magnitude springs have a flow rate of 100 cubic feet or more per second, 2nd magnitude springs have a rate of 10-100 ft.3/sec., 3rd magnitude flows are 1-10 ft.3/sec. and so on. We have 33 first magnitude springs in the state, and the majority of these are found in state parks. These springs pump out massive amounts of water. A flow rate of 100 ft.3/sec. translates to 65 million gallons per day. Larger springs in Florida supply the base flow for many streams and rivers.
What affects spring flow?
Multiple factors can affect the amount of water that flows from springs. These include the amount of rainfall, size of caverns and conduits that the water is flowing through, water pressure in the aquifer, and the size of the spring’s recharge basin. A recharge basin is the land area that contributes water to the spring – surface water and rainwater that falls on this area can seep into the ground and end up as part of the spring’s discharge. Drought and activities such as groundwater withdrawals through pumping can reduce flow from springs systems.
If you haven’t experienced the beauty of a Florida Spring, there is really nothing quite like it. Here in the panhandle, springs such as Wakulla, Jackson Blue, Pitt, Williford, Morrison, Ponce de Leon, Vortex, and Cypress Springs are some of the areas that offer wonderful recreational opportunities. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has a ‘springs finder’ web page with an interactive map that can help you locate these and many other springs throughout the state.