You might think the water supply in a state such as Florida is limitless. Surrounded on three sides by water, blessed with rivers, lakes, streams, springs and one of the most prolific aquifers on the planet. But the Sunshine State relies mostly on groundwater to meet the needs of its 19 million-plus residents.
And like many places in the U.S., that source of water is nearing its sustainable limits.
When you consider the increase in population that Florida has had over the past decade and all the new residential and commercial development, improving water efficiency in new development could go a long way toward helping Florida and other dry states address their water woes.
Florida’s Water Star water conservation certification program could be a good model for other water-deprived states. Designed for new and existing homes, along with commercial developments, the program began in 2006. The St. Johns River Water Management District—one of five water management districts in Florida—developed Water Star as a way to increase water efficiency in landscapes and irrigation systems, as well as indoors. Each year, the program has expanded incentives and has seen growing buy-in from local governments, builders and homeowners.
Water Star is a voluntary program, not a state mandate. As such, both builders and homeowners need to be convinced of its advantages. And the program isn’t simply about installing better faucets and irrigation shut-off valves—it also addresses the elephant in the room when it comes to water conservation: behavior change.
The payoff, however, can be sizeable for both commercial and residential projects. One Florida Water Star-certified gas station and convenience store in the Jacksonville area is now using 60% less water than a similar store not utilizing water-efficient measures. Similar results have been achieved on home sites. For the end user, that means a significantly lower water bill.
Water Star offers other potential perks for builders and developers. It can help ease tensions with local planning boards over a new building’s water demands, or green-light a retrofit.
Another key to Florida Water Star is the way it overlaps and enhances other programs such as Energy Star, the Florida Green Building Coalition’s green standards, and the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program. Florida Water Star improves the effectiveness of other green certification programs, because it’s more detailed and tailored to Florida’s unique conditions.
Carrots for Builder/Developers
In some cases, there are cash incentives for becoming Florida Water Star-certified. Some cities and counties are offering free inspections or impact-fee reductions. Also, in certain parts of the state, Multiple Listing Service information now includes “green” certification, which means a Florida Water Star certification could potentially increase the resale value of a home.
How does the certification process work? The applicant must first determine which level of certification to seek. The residential program includes two tiers—silver and gold—with gold denoting a higher standard for water efficiency. A commercial tier will be launched this year, following successful pilot-testing on several projects across the state. A community tier for master-planned communities—which are prevalent in Florida—is now being pilot-tested.
The Water Star Process
Once a builder/developer decides on a level of Florida Water Star certification for a project, here’s the trajectory:
Commitment. Sign a participation agreement and agree to participate in the inspection process.
Construction. This part is obvious.
Site Inspection. A Florida Water Star certifier inspects the property, looking for such things as efficient design and proper installation of irrigation systems, including head-to-head sprinkler spacing, matched precipitation and rain shut-off devices. Indoors, WaterSense and Energy Star-labeled fixtures and appliances are required.
Paper Trail. In addition to the on-site visit, the certifier will review supporting documentation provided by the applicant. Documentation includes irrigation and landscape drawings, an irrigation schedule that is posted by the controller, and a list of water-saving appliances and devices used indoors. Irwin notes that the certifiers must complete mandatory training, an apprenticeship and a successful score on a comprehensive exam of the Florida Water Star program.
The commercial tier includes an outdoor water budget allowing 20” of landscape irrigation annually. An irrigation budget tool provided to applicants enables them to demonstrate that their system will comply with the requirements. Requiring the water budget increases the likelihood that the system will perform over time.
Recycling and Rainwater
Some water saving practices, such graywater systems for clothes washing, haven’t been used much in Water Star certification to date. There’s still too much pushback from local officials. In Florida, each county health department sets its own policy with regard to graywater use.
Rainwater harvesting in Florida, however, has gained a foothold in the market, and is a good way to improve on Water Star “points.” So far, at least two Florida Water Star-certified homes have achieved “net zero” water, meaning they collect all of their indoor water—including drinking water—from rainstorms. Many other homes use harvested rainwater for irrigation or other outdoor uses.
Reducing water use in a single home may not seem remarkable in the big scheme of things. But imagine tens of thousands of homeowners and business owners becoming Florida Water Star-certified. Together, we can positively impact our present and future water supplies.
About the author: Deirdre Irwin is the Florida Water Star Coordinator , Office of Communications and Intergovernmental Affairs. She can be reached through the Web site at www.floridawaterstar.com.
To view this article as presented in our March 2012 issue, with additional photos and information, please visit our Magazine Archive.