5th UF Water Institute Symposium Abstract

Submitter's Name Linda Seals
Session Name Achieving Behavior Change: Public perceptions and awareness of water conservation issues 2
Author(s) Chris Martinez,  UF/IFAS Agricultural and Biological Engineering
  Lynn Barber,  UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County
  Tatiana Borisova, UF/IFAS Food and Resource Economics
  Shannon Carnevale, UF/IFAS Extension Polk County (Presenting Author)
  B.J. Jarvis, UF/IFAS Extension Citrus County
  Water School Extension Program to Educate Public Officials and Decision-Makers
  Additional author: Yilin Zhuang, UF/IFAS Extension Marion County. Water quality, water availability and water conservation are top priorities for Florida’s 19.9 million residents and, therefore; important to the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS.) Municipalities are often involved in contentious debates concerning water allocation, rates, quality, funding for new facilities, nutrient management in local watersheds, and so forth. When these debates arise, elected officials must make difficult decisions, and it’s in the community’s interest for decision-makers to be well-informed. The goal of Water School is to inform participants about local water supply and water issues, and encourage informed decision-making on water management and policy. Local water issues vary by community, and each Water School must be developed separately to ensure that it addresses local circumstances adequately. Program development is handled by advisory committees comprising of Water School personnel, local water utilities personnel, agricultural producers and other community members. Topics often covered in the Water School curriculum include watershed theory, basic hydrology, alternative water supply, utility rate structures, community water conservation and common sources of water pollution. To date, Water School has been offered 18 times in a total of six central Florida counties. Survey results from the most recent Water School – conducted in Marion County – indicate that over 90% of participants thought water education programs, such as Water School, help improve public policy. Self-assessment, based on a scale of 1 to 5, reflected participants’ average knowledge level of key water quality and quantity topics increased from 2.8 (i.e., “know approximately 50% of the content) to 3.8 (i.e., “know approximately 76% of the content). Water School is a novel approach that will result in greater community awareness of water-related issues, the generation of timely solutions and support from decision-makers, appointed and elected officials, and community leaders.