Preserving the Future of Citrus through Environmental Stewardship
The Wastewater Division Innovative Reuse System for citrus irrigation utilizes rapid infiltration basin reuse (RIBs). Reclaimed water from wastewater treatment plants is treated and disinfected to a certain level. Then, once deemed safe it is reclaimed for beneficial purposes, termed “water reuse.” [emember_protected custom_msg=”Click here and register now to read the rest of the article!”]Water recycling is integral and a natural occurrence through the hydrologic cycle. Citrus operations can apply water reuse when irrigation is low. Both RIBs and citrus irrigation recharge the aquifer. Florida leads the country in reuse programs and was the first recipient of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Water Efficiency Leader Award in 2006. The key benefit of water reuse for environmental conservation is fresh water. The reuse programs effectively help the agricultural community with dependable water supply, possible reduction of fertilizer applications (since reclaimed water has nutrients present), and lower energy costs. 725 million gallons per day (mgd) of water is reclaimed for beneficial purposes in Florida. 14,056 acres of citrus operations irrigate with water reuse, which is filtered through their healthy sandy soils of citrus, thus recharging the aquifer.
Water reuse management is an effective means of conserving ecosystems in citrus operations. The most common uses of reclaimed water flow are public access (55 percent), industrial uses (17 percent), groundwater recharge (13 percent), agricultural irrigation (10 percent), as well as wetlands and other uses (5 percent). The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) regulates the edible crops usage of reclaimed water for beneficial purposes. Requirements include that the crops be thermally processed, or, peeled, skinned, or cooked. Studies have shown no negative impact of water reuse for irrigating citrus groves and have shown improvement of fruit quality and abundance, benefiting groves. With studies ongoing, water reuse contains preexisting levels of nutrients and fertilizers, in which could offset fertilization and nutrient replacement for some citrus operations.
History, climate, geography, and environmental forces have jointly created a singular and significant reservoir of horticultural, landscape, with diversity in plant and animal species of Florida’s ecosystems. Citrus buffers help to support this delicate balance of plant and wildlife systems. Diverse plant species that grow around groves provide shelter, resting areas, and food sources for natural and protected Florida birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. Insectivorous birds and birds of prey that commonly live on groves help to control insects and rodent populations that threaten or damage citrus crops. Snakes also reduce vertebrate crop pests.
The continued cooperative efforts between the citrus industry, conscientious citizens, UF / IFAS and scientists, Native American Reservations, as well as state and federal agencies will only serve to advance research and technology for citrus cultivation and ecosystem sustainability. Citrus growers have proven through the ages the dedication and commitment to preserve the natural environment of Florida; a strong responsibility and urgency for tending current needs; and a future vision for the good citrus cultivation can continue to do for Florida’s unique environment and society. The invaluable yield is not just the fragrant beauty and delicious fruit, but how citrus continues to help sustain our ecosystems. The industry’s fruitful agricultural story will serve a good purpose for humanity, generations to come.
story by J.P. Smith