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June 5, 2012

The Southwest Florida Water Management District continues to maintain its commitment to provide key services to the agricultural community despite organization changes and staff reductions.

The economic downturn, reduced property values and other constraints have led to significant budget cuts, staff reductions and re-evaluation of priorities at the District in 2012.

Facing new budget realities, the District’s Governing Board directed staff to move forward with organizational restructuring and staff reductions after approving a 44.4 percent decrease from the FY2011 budget – a budgetary level not seen since the 1990s. Despite these cuts, the District continues to serve the agricultural community with a variety of key grower programs summarized below:

Agricultural Ground & Surface Water Management (AGSWM):
To assist producers through the regulatory process, the District implemented the Agricultural Ground & Surface Water Management (AGSWM) program in 1990. The AGSWM exemption program is an alternative to formal Environmental Resource Permitting (ERP) for landowners contemplating a new or modified crop plan. The Regulatory Agricultural Team is comprised of Jeff Whealton, environmental scientist, and Mark Luchte, engineer. Jeff and Mark now cover all 16 District counties and are both located in the Tampa Service Office at (813) 985-7481, ext. 6119 and 6522 respectively. Visit WaterMatters.org/ AGSWM for more information.

Mobile Irrigation Labs:
The District continues to support two mobile irrigation labs (MIL) that will come out to your agricultural operation to evaluate the efficiency of your irrigation system. U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) MIL is operated by Guillermo Alverio of the Wauchula NRCS office at (863) 773-4764. The Privately Outsourced Mobile Irrigation Lab (PrOMIL) handles over-pumpage situations and is a good first step toward irrigating in accordance with your water use permit. The PrOMIL is operated by Philip Nathan, P.E. at (941) 747-9522. Visit WaterMatters.org/mobile for more information.

Facilitating Agricultural Resource Management Systems (FARMS):
The FARMS program is an agricultural BMP (best management practices) cost-share reimbursement program. The purpose of the FARMS initiative is to provide an incentive to the agricultural community, to implement agricultural BMPs that will provide resource benefits that include water quality improvement; reduced Upper Floridan aquifer withdrawals; and/or conserve, restore or augment the area’s water resources and ecology. FARMS staff will conduct site visits, secure contracts with the growers and coordinate all administrative and financial aspects of reimbursements to growers. After construction, staff continues to work with the grower during the operational phase to document the net improvement to water resources. To get involved in this innovative cost-share program, contact FARMS Manager Ed Craig at (941) 377-3722, ext. 6556. Visit WaterMatters.org/FARMS for more information.

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Research:
The District continues to provide annual funding to UF-IFAS for numerous agricultural research projects. Primarily these projects are geared toward research that saves water by increasing irrigation efficiencies or by establishing evapotranspiration of plants. This allows the correct amount of water to be allocated in order to produce the highest quality crops for the least investment in irrigation.

The Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN):
The FAWN project started in 1997 and the District became involved in 2003. This project collects and distributes real-time weather and climatic data, specifically geared to agricultural users, to increase irrigation efficiencies and reduce water use. Recently, FAWN introduced a cold weather tool kit, designed to assist agricultural users in reducing their frost/freeze water use. During cold protection events, the estimated savings associated with the use of FAWN state-wide are in excess of one billion gallons of water per day.

Visit WaterMatters.org/agriculture for more information about available programs.

 
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