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In Florida, lukewarm welcome for drought-resistant landscaping

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"Florida will never be arid like Arizona, but it's certainly going to have the same water problems as Arizona has," says Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, an independent nonprofit research group based in Oakland, Calif. "Florida is reaching the limits of its natural water availability. The population is growing rapidly, and it's outstripping the natural endowment."

The average Floridian household consumes 174 gallons of water daily, using up to 75 percent of it to irrigate sod and landscaping. The sod of choice is St. Augustine – grass that dies without water. In this state of golf courses and country clubs, many homeowner's associations require that a certain percentage of a homeowner's yard is sod with St. Augustine, maintained to a specific shade of green, Ms. Barnett says.

Xeriscaping – landscaping using drought-resistant and usually native plants and flowers – is catching on thanks to trailblazers like Tubbs. But it's still not mainstream in Florida. Proponents avoid using the term, because they say it's misconstrued as zero landscaping or landscaping with rocks and gravel.

Striking a balance between attractive, drought-resistant landscaping and landscaping that is unkempt is tricky, says Teresa Watkins, Central Florida yards and neighborhoods coordinator for the University of Florida. A dirt yard saves water, but it sure isn't pretty.

Very few Florida yards – perhaps fewer than 1 percent – are "Florida-friendly," says Ms. Watkins.

"We still see lawns everywhere," says Mr. Gleick. "It doesn't matter if you think you're in a state that gets a lot of water if you use it all."

In 2005, the Florida Legislature passed two laws, one requiring local governments to ensure water sources are available before approving new development and another allocating $60 million to localities to develop new water sources. Gleick warns that any real progress will have to come from local governments, because local agencies distribute water.

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