The parking lot at the Wayne G. Sanborn Activity Center in DeLand was empty and still dark at 7 on a recent Friday morning, when a small group of people drove in and silently unloaded their cars.
It was the Volusia Water Alliance preparing for its fourth annual Fall Water Symposium — a busy day that gathered together expert speakers, government and environmental organizations, and concerned residents.
They were there to exchange ideas and plans, and to talk about possible solutions for preserving our burdened natural resources in Volusia County.
The Fall Symposium is a free annual event hosted in DeLand by the Volusia Water Alliance.
The mission of the Fall Symposium: inspire and educate the community to promote clean water.
The public’s growing interest in and concern about our water is reflected by growing attendance at these annual events — and more than 10 elected officials were present among 250 registered participants.
Attendees were welcomed by DeLand City Commissioner Christopher Cloudman, a dedicated supporter of the Volusia Water Alliance. He gave an enthusiastic talk about the benefits of working together to save our water resources.
An emphasis this year was showing how simple it is for individuals to contribute to preserving our drinking water now and for the future.
For example, make a few changes in gardening habits. Stephen Kintner, vice chair of the West Volusia Audubon Society’s Blue Spring Alliance, championed pollinator gardens and urged avoiding pesticides to save birds, water and insects (which provide food for birds).
Jennifer Condo of the Garden Club of DeLand spoke about the club’s efforts to promote the creation of gardens friendly to monarch butterflies, and invited everyone to visit the Sensory Garden in DeLand’s Bill Dreggors Park.
Condo said the Garden Club’s Milkweed Circle has certified more than 139 Monarch Sanctuary homes and commercial landscapes in DeLand alone. Go to www.gardenclubofdeland.org to find out about getting your landscape certified.
John Henry November of the Public Trust-Environmental Legal Institute of Florida spoke on behalf of the Gemini Springs Alliance, a group of residents and environmental advocates who are working toward restoration of Gemini Springs and the DeBary Bayou.
He urged public involvement.
“Our community has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take action to restore a regionally significant area that has been in decline since the construction of I-4,” November said, adding, “A collaborative approach to this restoration could save a once-pristine ecosystem.”
The keynote speaker was Dinah Voyles Pulver, national environmental-data reporter for GateHouse Media, and an environmental reporter for The Daytona Beach News-Journal for 29 years. Pulver was also awarded the Clay Henderson Award for Environmental Stewardship.
Her presentation included an urgent appeal for collaboration among environmental and governmental groups and individuals.
Megan Martin, program coordinator of Volusia County’s “Be Floridian Now” program, talked about the county’s community-based water-quality initiatives, including “Fertilize Like a Floridian,” which is designed to inform the public about responsible use of fertilizers.
She also described the Save Our Springs and Rivers Educational Series, which includes a free academy anyone can join. Graduates become “ambassadors” and pledge to educate others on behalf of Blue Spring. More information on the many programs can be found at www.greenvolusia.org.
Dr. Wendy Anderson, professor and chair of environmental-science studies at Stetson University, challenged West Volusia’s many homeowners associations to promote sustainable landscapes that would save water and attract pollinators.
Anderson is working on water conservation, nutrient reduction and biodiversity in the Victoria Park community.
Kellis McGee of Riverside Conservancy, an organization working to create and expand sustainable living shorelines, discussed the critical needs of the Indian River Lagoon.
She emphasized protecting the lagoon by using less fertilizer and chemicals, and by watering less.
McGee also reminded us that the Volusia ECHO and Volusia Forever programs expire soon.
The symposium concluded with a panel discussion on local-government water projects, followed by a panel on sustainable landscaping.
DeLand Public Services Director Keith Riger, Orange City Public Works Director Raul Palenzuela, and Port Orange consultant Brad Blais talked about regulatory challenges faced by local governments, the proposed Volusia Blue Wetland Recharge project, and other current and planned public-utility projects.
Last but not least, the Sustainable Landscaping Panel, moderated by Gabbie Milch of the St. Johns Riverkeeper, incorporated presentations by Dr. Don Spence, an associate professor of biology at Bethune-Cookman University and a native-plant enthusiast, and Steve Costa, a builder and developer who talked about the challenges builders face with sustainable landscaping and development.
Deirdre Irwin, water-conservation coordinator for the St. Johns River Water Management District, explained the Water Star Program, which recognizes homes and commercial buildings for water-saving methods.
At the end of the day, a tired but satisfied group packed up, knowing that a sizable number of people left with many new friends and a lot more knowledge about living a more sustainable and resilient lifestyle.
A video of the symposium speakers’ presentations is available on the website: www.volusiawater.org.
What’s next? Save the date for The Water Festival in Downtown DeLand on Saturday, April 25.