Water Less heroes

Making a difference in Marion County

Two people standing in an open yard

Part of the Marion County Florida-Friendly Landscaping program includes an inspection of participants’ yards to help ensure they are maximizing their water-saving potential.

Growing up in Marion County, Amanda Marek watched open land change to asphalt and rooftops.

“The reason I got into environmental sciences was because I see the pace at which development was impacting Florida,” Marek says. “More and more people were moving in and I knew that our water supply couldn’t sustain it if nothing changed.”

Amanda Marek

Amanda Marek helps Marion County residents save water one yard at a time.

Today, Marek is the agent for the Marion County Florida-Friendly Landscaping (FFL) program, a part of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension. She oversees a program that is reducing Marion County’s outdoor water use by nearly 2 million gallons a year.

FFL programs operate throughout the state. Marion County’s format includes personalized service such as landscape evaluations with everyone who participates in a program class, she says.

“We focus on high water-using homeowners associations as well as larger facilities like the YMCA or the library,” she says. “Most of the people who take the class are new to Florida landscaping. They don’t know how much water to use on their lawn or what types of plants are in their yards. They’re often under the assumption that their landscape needs plenty of fertilizer when it doesn’t.”

After completing the course, participants provide Marek with pH samples of their soil. Marek and her volunteers (who are Florida Master Gardeners) visit the class participants and evaluate their yards. They look at the amount of water used and whether the plants are compatible with the pH of the soil.

“We spend extra time with the homeowner, making an impact home by home,” she says. “We’re building relationships. After the evaluation, many come back to us year after year seeking advice on their landscaping projects.”

The Marion County FFL quantifies its impact on water supplies with data from a “behavior change” survey it gathers from participants. The results are impressive and among the highlights: The estimated water savings from FFL activities in 2019 equated to 991,078 gallons saved annually in Marion County and the site visits Marek conducted last year resulted in approximately $5,400 in total savings for residents.

It’s no surprise, then, that Marek was awarded the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Educator of the Year in 2019.

Marek says it’s a team effort. She points to the collaborative efforts of FFL’s steering committee, which includes representatives from the St. Johns River and Southwest Florida water management districts, and county and local governments.

Deirdre Irwin, water conservation coordinator for the St. Johns District says Marek and her colleagues are truly Water Less heroes, helping bring about positive changes for Florida’s future.

“Partners in water conservation make our job easier and the Florida-Friendly Landscaping program is a strong partner in messaging to use less water outdoors,” she says. “Amanda’s passion and dedication are having a quantifiable impact on our most precious water resources.”

We spend extra time with the homeowner, making an impact home by home. We’re building relationships.

Amanda Marek

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