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Manatee County residents get water wiser

Water School touts water conservation.

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  • | 8:00 a.m. August 1, 2018
SMR Farms Citrus Production Manager Stevie John leads a tour through the farms' sod and citrus groves.
SMR Farms Citrus Production Manager Stevie John leads a tour through the farms' sod and citrus groves.
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River Strand’s Pauline Tasler is determined to be water wiser.

As a gardener, she knows water conservation is important, and it’s something she strived for when she lived for nearly three decades in California. There, you paid extra for using too much water for irrigation, she said.

In Manatee County, there’s plenty of water to go around now, but resources are limited and there will be challenges as the population grows, she learned.

“I worry about it,” she said. “I try to figure out how I can make a difference.”

On July 26-27, Tasler joined about 15 people, ranging from political candidates to county employees and interested residents, for the University of Florida/IFAS Manatee County Extension Office’s Water School program. 

The two-day workshop featured presentations on topics such as the county’s drinking water supply and the impact of development on water quality. 

On Day Two, participants visited the eco-friendly River Forest community, Mariposa Nursery and SMR Farms, a subsidiary of Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.

Tasler was captivated as she rode a bus down service roads through SMR Farms’ sod and citrus farms.

Stevie John, SMR Farms’ citrus production manager, talked about Lakewood Ranch’s agricultural history, pointing out where development will overtake sod fields and citrus groves.

“Forty-fourth Avenue is going to come right through here,” he said, pointing south of the SMR Farms office parking lot on the east side of Lorraine Road.

SMR Farms has grown sod since the 1980s and currently farms 465 acres of sod. More than 800 acres is dedicated to citrus groves. John said development will slowly overtake farm operations.

But until development occurs, SMR Farms will continue farming using industry best-practices, John said. For SMR Farms, more than 90% of water used for irrigation is reclaimed. For citrus farming, SMR Farms uses micro-jet and drip irrigation to reduce water waste.

“I haven’t had to run water in two months,” John said.

Bradenton’s Richard Andrews attended Water School to learn. 

“I come on these tours because of the technology I’m seeing in the fields,” he said. “These farmers need to keep up with science and technology.”

Crystal Snodgrass, University of Florida IFAS Manatee County Extension director, said these tours help dispel misconceptions that all farming practices ruin the environment. They also showcase best-practices for water usage.

“We picked farms that are at the top of their game in water conservation,” Snodgrass said. “We want people to understand they are stewards of the land.”

Water School is a biennial program sponsored by the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Manatee County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District.