BROOKSVILLE — From teaching people about the drought-resistant plants that do best in Central Florida to educating residents on the upside of using a rain barrel, Sylvia Durell's job is to make the best of Hernando's landscape while also protecting precious water resources.
Durell is the Hernando coordinator for the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program, but now her work is in jeopardy. Several weeks ago, the Southwest Florida Water Management District told local governments that it was pulling the plug on funding the programs.
Districtwide, that will save the agency about $500,000, allowing it to focus on other programs such as its Florida Water Star program. In Hernando, the cut will be approximately $40,000, leaving local officials scrambling to find a new way to fund portions of the program.
Susan Goebel-Canning, Hernando County's director of environmental services, said she is trying to keep the program intact because it has value for the community, but she has not yet settled on a plan.
Some of what Durell does touches on the measures that residents can take to conserve water and protect groundwater quality through their landscaping choices.
Also under Goebel-Canning's direction is the county's water conservation coordinator, Alys Brockway, whose duties include overseeing the incentive programs for utility customers who switch to more water-efficient, low-flow toilets or who use sensors to turn off irrigation systems when it rains.
Goebel-Canning is considering tweaking both job descriptions by possibly adding outreach chores to the water conservation coordinator position and expanding the landscaping program to include another earth-friendly endeavor — promoting the county's recycling efforts.
Finding a funding mechanism that works will be key to any changes that are made, she said.
Just last week, the Withlacoochee Regional Water Supply Authority announced that Hernando County will receive a $48,400 grant for water conservation efforts. More than half of that goes into the incentive program Brockway oversees and the rest for education, Goebel-Canning said.
These programs work, she said. Since Hernando's peak water use in 2006, the county has realized a 20 percent reduction in water use. That is important as the county strives to keep its water usage at or below 150 gallons per person per day, a goal Brockway said the county reached about three years ago.
Goebel-Canning is considering funding a portion of the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program out of the county utilities budget, as it is now, and a portion out of the solid waste program.
That would mean that some of outreach time now spent promoting wise landscaping could be used to tell residents about the benefits of recycling. Curbside recycling became available countywide in January 2012, when Republic Services took over garbage collection in the county.
Goebel-Canning said she could see the value of an education program that would explain the reasons why people should recycle. One of the biggest benefits is that it will extend the lifetime of the county's landfill by removing items from the trash stream that could have another life.
The county has been considering switching to single-stream recycling, which would allow residents to put all of their recyclable items into a single covered rolling bin. Goebel-Canning said she expected to talk to the County Commission about the issue in the coming months.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.