Alachua County is embracing a new era of sustainable planning with its recent changes to the Landscape Irrigation Design and Maintenance Standards. The revised code, which went into effect on June 12, 2023, marks an important milestone in water conservation efforts and sets an example for North Florida.
Here's what new construction homeowners need to know about the new rules, along with some ideas for creatively adapting your landscape in the Gainesville area.
What You Need to Know
The Alachua County Commission has limited the area that can be permanently irrigated to 50% of the permeable area, with a maximum irrigated footprint of 0.25 acres per residential lot. These changes ensure that new irrigation systems and additions to existing systems adhere to the new efficiency standards, which must receive a permit before installation. Alachua County also requires irrigation companies to register their businesses with the County and make sure their practices align with the latest guidelines.
Why Is This Happening?
Water conservation lies at the heart of these code revisions, aiming to combat the growing trend of what Alachua County officials consider over-irrigation in new construction communities.
Stacie Greco, the Water Resources Program Manager at Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, highlights the significance of this step in reducing water consumption. “Since almost 60% of residential water use occurs in our landscapes, this is an important step for reducing water use,” Greco said. “The water savings will not only help save our springs and groundwater supply but will also save homeowners money on their utility bills.”
Fertilizer from over-irrigated lawns running off into the groundwater and tourist-friendly springs is another problem the new rules aim to address.
Water Conservation Ideas for New Construction Homeowners in Alachua County
Now, you might be wondering, what are the options for homeowners to embrace these changes without losing their beautiful landscaping? Below we discuss a few alternatives to sprinklers that not only conserve water but also enhance the beauty and functionality of your landscape:
Native and Drought-Tolerant Plants
Embrace the natural beauty of Alachua County by incorporating native and drought-tolerant plants into your landscape design. These plants are adapted to the local climate and require minimal irrigation once established. Drought-tolerant species such as palms and Florida-native grasses like fakahatchee and cordgrass are excellent choices that can thrive with limited water. Low maintenance annuals and perennials include aloe, blue daze, black eyed susan, rosemary, lavender and many more.
For more tips on choosing drough-resistant plants, check out the University of Florida Extension’s blog article on Florida-friendly landscaping.
Capture the abundant rainfall in Alachua County by installing a rainwater harvesting system. Collecting rainwater in barrels or cisterns allows you to reuse it for irrigation purposes during hotter or drier periods. It's a sustainable and cost-effective solution that reduces reliance on municipal water sources.
Efficient Irrigation Techniques
If you prefer some form of irrigation, consider more water-efficient methods like drip irrigation or micro-sprinklers. These systems deliver water directly to the root zones of plants, minimizing evaporation and runoff. Additionally, smart irrigation controllers equipped with weather sensors can adjust watering schedules based on real-time weather conditions, further optimizing water usage.
Here are a few things an experienced irrigation professional does to make sure your irrigation system is working as efficiently as possible:
- Test controller and make seasonal adjustments
- Test all zones and valves for proper operations
- Adjust and fine tune all sprinklers
- Check for broken and leaking pipe(s)
- Check for broken or clogged sprinkler heads and nozzles
- Determine if any sprinkler heads need raising or straightened to ensure correct coverage
- Test and clean rain/freeze sensor
- Examine Backflow Preventer
- Clean filters for drip irrigation (if applicable)
By staying on top of maintenance, you can rest assured that your irrigation system will continue to perform optimally and save you money on water.
Mulch is a superhero in water conservation. By applying a layer of organic mulch around your plants and shrubs, you can significantly reduce water evaporation from the soil, maintain soil moisture levels, and suppress weed growth. Organic materials like wood chips or shredded leaves make excellent mulching options.
Grand Oaks: Embracing Water Conservation in Alachua County
Grand Oaks is a brand new residential community in Southwest Gainesville, with convenient access to tons of retail, restaurants, and I-75. Grand Oaks amenities include access to ample green space, a covered pavilion with a pool and playground, and proximity to new retail offerings.
Phase 1 and Phase 2 are on the market now. Phase 3 of the development, set to be completed in 2024, will comply with the new irrigation standards in creative ways. Grand Oaks builders are embracing the new rules by designing landscaping with drought and heat tolerant zoysia grass and Florida-friendly landscaping.
As real estate professionals, we encourage homeowners to make the most of these changes by adopting water-wise landscaping practices. Not only will you contribute to water conservation efforts, but you'll also create stunning, resilient landscapes that add value to your property.
Let's embrace this new chapter in Alachua County's journey toward a greener future. Together, we can protect our water resources and create sustainable communities for generations to come!