5th UF Water Institute Symposium Abstract

Submitter's Name William Lester
Session Name Achieving Behavior Change: Public perceptions and awareness of water conservation issues 2
Author(s) William Lester,  UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County (Presenting Author)
  Utilization Of Science In Crafting And Evaluating A Fertilizer Ordinance
  I am applying for an Extension scholarship. Situation: Testing has shown that the levels of nitrates in local springs along the Florida Nature Coast have been rising over the past several decades. Even though Hernando County contains a first magnitude spring (Weeki Wachee), elected officials opted out of septic tank inspections in 2012. This, combined with elected officials’ ecological concerns, prompted Hernando County government to craft a Fertilizer Ordinance. UF/IFAS Extension faculty were asked to assist with the science associated with fertilizers and water quality. They were also tasked with educating the public and with the evaluation of knowledge gain associated with the new ordinance. Methods: UF/IFAS Extension faculty called upon Dr. Laurie Trenholm for turfgrass information, model ordinance language, and suggestions regarding the blackout period. A grace period of one year (no code violations) was established during which homeowners would be offered education via the Florida Friendly Landscaping and Horticulture programs. An overview of the new restrictions that most affect residents was included in horticulture classes offered to the public. Results: The Fertilizer Ordinance was adopted in 2013 without objection from homeowners, industry representatives, or environmental groups. The efforts to reduce nitrate pollution caused by residential use of fertilizers took on new importance because in 2014, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection established a Total Maximum Daily Load consisting of nitrate reductions of 71.1% in Weeki Wachee Spring and 77.3% in the Weeki Wachee River (Dodson et al, 2014). The Hernando County ordinance is novel because it is the first to include a winter blackout period, when residents are not allowed to apply fertilizers to their lawn. A video public service announcement, county factsheets, and a PowerPoint have been created by UF/IFAS Extension faculty to educate the homeowners and landscape professionals about the ordinance. A pre/post was utilized at the beginning of horticulture classes to ascertain the knowledge gain of homeowners. The knowledge gain associated with the Fertilizer Ordinance is 24% (n=131). A survey is planned for November of 2015 (two years after the passage of the ordinance) to evaluate any positive changes in behavior of the residents who have been taught about the ordinance. During 2014 a total of 851 residents participated in classes where the components of the ordinance were taught, and to date during 2015 that number is 721. Conclusion: Science is crucial in the crafting, implementation, and evaluation of Fertilizer Ordinances, which is where UF/IFAS Extension can play an important role. But it is equally important to educate the public and to explain the science behind fertilizer ordinances for them to be effective in reducing nitrate levels in groundwater and springs.