Water quality crucial to Floridians, UF survey finds

A gar swims in Silver Springs, where the water quality has degrated in recent years. A survey has found that Floridians put a priority on water quality.

Alan Youngblood/Star-Banner
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 7:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 7:29 p.m.

Floridians prioritize water quality over quantity, even though they have taken some steps to limit their water consumption to ensure water conservation, according to a recent University of Florida survey.

The Center for Public Issues Education at UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences launched its first survey on water resources of 469 people in the state. Other surveys in the series will cover immigration, invasive and endangered species, and food production practices, said Alexa Lamm, an assistant professor of public opinion analysis at IFAS and the author of the water survey.

"The public perceives that water quality is important to them … having clean drinking water, bays and estuaries, and they are willing to limit some of their water consumption in order to be sure there are clean resources available," Lamm said.

According to the survey, more than half the respondents use low-flow shower heads and toilets, and 65.5 percent turn off the faucet when they brush their teeth.

However, fewer respondents are willing to lower their shower times to 5 minutes, Lamm added. "It's a personal choice in terms of their own comfort level," she said. "I think there are areas that could be improved upon."

People are also trying to conserve water when it comes to the outdoors: 18.7 percent use rain barrels to collect rainwater, and 65.3 percent use recycled wastewater to irrigate their lawn or landscape.

Lamm said it was also encouraging that people considered conserving quality water for agriculture to be a top priority. This was followed by the need for water for recreational purposes such as golf courses.

A smaller percentage of respondents said that preserving water quality for aquifers, springs, rivers and lakes was highly important. Also, only 37.7 percent of respondents said that the problem of hypoxia, or water with low levels of oxygen, was highly important. Hypoxia poses a number of environmental problems, including widespread dying off of fish and harmful algae blooms.

Jack Payne, the senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources at UF, said that although he is pleased with the results of the survey, it didn't delve into some of the larger issues such as climate change.

"If you are a recreationist, a rancher, a developer or just a public citizen, water will affect your quality of life, and a changing climate will impact that resource," Payne said.

He added that water storage will become an important part of preparing for climate change.

"People may think it is only in Nevada or Utah, but because of our exclusive karst geology, we have a problem with storage, so we need a lot of rainfall, and traditionally we have had a lot, but we just went through a pretty serious issue last summer (with drought)."

More than half the people surveyed also perceived saltwater intrusion to be an important issue. Lamm said, "There are portions of the state that have had negative intrusion of saltwater in tap water," especially in southern Florida and along the Gulf Coast.

People in rural areas throughout the state, who use a lot of well water, also said they experienced poor water quality more often than people in cities, with nearly half reporting a bad experience with water quality — most because of poor water quality at home.

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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