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Conserving water is a constant goal

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Officials believe that local water conservation efforts are going well, but the effort must continue to conserve one of our most precious natural resources for the future.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Floridan aquifer system is one of world's most productive aquifers. It covers more than 100,000 square miles and supplies water to many cities in the southeastern part of the country.

Lucinda Scott, Northwest Florida Water Management District public information specialist, says there's plenty of water in Floridan aquifer for many, many years, but it isn't an endless supply and it must be protected it from sources of pollution.

"We definitely should use water wisely," Ms. Scott said. "We certainly try to stress that to people every chance we get."

Teresa Jordan, Eglin's water program manager, agrees about the importance of water conservation. Ms. Jordan also feels like Eglin is doing "an outstanding job" in water conservation.

One such effort she said that best illustrates that is the multi-year project that Eglin is conducting to move its irrigation wells from the Floridan aquifer to the sand and gravel aquifer, a voluntary effort Eglin is making to conserve water from Floridan aquifer.

"Many of our irrigation wells have been moved from the Floridan aquifer to the sand and gravel aquifer," Ms. Jordan said. "The Air Force is trying to set the example for all to follow and I believe we are leading the way in Okaloosa County."

Another major project Eglin has recently finished is geophysical survey of some of its abandoned wells, Ms. Jordan said. From a regional perspective, the Northwest Florida Water Management District can use the data from this project to gain a better understanding of salt water intrusion to the Floridan aquifer, due to strategic location of the Eglin wells that were surveyed.

Joan Whitney, Joan Whitney Okaloosa County Water and Sewer utility billing coordinator, said the state chose April many years ago as its water conservation month because April is typically the month when the biggest waste of water occurs--watering lawns.

"We don't need to water our grass every day," Ms. Whitney said. "Healthy grass learns how to obtain the moisture it needs by driving its roots deeper in the ground. Those roots won't grow deeper in the ground if there's a lot of water on surface. And, once a dry spell hits, the grass will die."

Both officials believe that xeriscaping has also become an ideal way to better conserve water. It involves creating water-efficient landscapes around homes and buildings by using native plants. Col. Dennis Yates, 96th Civil Engineer Group commander, has planned a 2008-2009 xeriscaping pilot project on Eglin to encourage water conservation when landscaping.

"This xeriscaping project will have a positive impact on Eglin's long-term water conservation efforts," Col. Yates said. "This isn't something we can do overnight, but with everyone's continued focus, we can preserve our precious water resource to ensure we have it 50-70 years from now."

Also, Eglin has contracted Science Applications International Corporation to conduct a study of its industrial water use processes to determine if they can be moved from the potable water supply to the sand and gravel aquifer and other water sources, Ms. Jordan said. The study will look at things like aircraft wash racks and water chillers.

"Eglin is not considered an industrial use base per say," Ms. Jordan said. "Even so, with the small processes we have, this is just another example of Eglin leading the way in water conservation."

As far as water conservation in the home, Ms. Whitney said a lot of it is just common sense.

"Water conservation in the home is so easy," Ms. Whitney said. "Try turning off the water while you are brushing your teeth and filling the kitchen sink with rinse water for your dishes instead of just running the faucet. These things make a big difference, especially in your water bill every month."

Ms. Scott said the NWFWMD has been pushing the use of rain barrels to harvest the rain water off roofs for use in the yard.

The OCWS customer service office has many brochures to help educate its 34,000 customers on water conservation. OWCS also gives out water conservation kits that contain devices you can install to help your home become more water efficient. Ms. Whitney encourages people to call 651-7171 or visit the office on 1804 Lewis Turner Boulevard for information.