AskIFAS Powered by EDIS

about page banner

Communicating About Water in the Floridan Aquifer Region

This series provides research-based strategies for minimizing polarization and improving collaboration between groups with different water preferences.

Intended audiences: water managers, government officials, scientists, Extension faculty, news media, industry, and other water-related organizations

This material was supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2017-68007-26319. This material is additionally supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number 2021590. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture or the National Science Foundation.  

Editorial Team

Part 1

Communicating About Water in the Floridan Aquifer Region: Part 1—What Do People Know About Water Science?

WC447/AEC786by Sadie Hundemer and Shenara RamadanMarch 1, 2024Meaningful engagement by the public in the water decisions that affect their lives requires basic scientific knowledge, such as where their water comes from, the factors that affect quality and availability, and the challenges that influence water supply. A 2020 study suggests that Florida and Georgia residents lack fundamental knowledge about their water resources, including regional water processes, including its challenges, and policies. This is the base information that would enable a person to competently participate in water discussions and make citizen-level voting decisions on topics related to the Floridan aquifer. The knowledge deficits identified in the study are areas on which water communicators can build the public’s water science comprehension and, thereby, support increased public engagement. The findings also suggest the level of water science complexity that the public is equipped to understand. 

Part 3

Communicating About Water in the Floridan Aquifer Region: Part 2—Do People Believe Water Science?

WC442/AEC781by Sadie Hundemer and Shenara RamadanMarch 1, 2024It is not enough for the public to know the water science that affects their lives; it is also important that they believe it. People are more apt to use water science information if they accept it as true. Moreover, when water science is rejected, policy discourse can devolve into a debate over water facts instead of weighing alternative management strategies. A 2020 study suggests that belief in regional water science is influenced by political orientation. As a result, some individuals do not believe what they understand to be the consensus of water scientists on topics pertaining to the Floridan Aquifer. Equipped with this information, water communicators can take proactive steps, prior to a potential water policy introduction, to increase the likelihood that the public will accept water science.

Communicating About Water in the Floridan Aquifer Region: Part 3—How the Right Messages and Messengers Can Increase Bipartisan Support for Water Policy

WC439/AEC778by Sadie Hundemer and Shenara RamadanMarch 1, 2024When water policies are introduced, they may not be universally supported. One stakeholder group or political party may be “for” the policy and contend that the public should vote “yes.” They may argue that the policy is fair to the parties involved or that it shows loyalty to affected communities. These are moral arguments used to sway public support. An opposing stakeholder group or political party may also issue moral arguments “against” the policy. They may argue that the public should vote “no” because the policy is not fair or is disloyal to impacted communities. In competitive policy scenarios like these, at least two factors affect public support for the policy – moral arguments and the identities of the communicators. Understanding how each of these factors influences policy preferences is key to creating a communication that is conducive to broad public support. 

Part 4

Communicating About Water in the Floridan Aquifer Region: Part 4—The Media’s Role in Water Perceptions

WC443/AEC782by Sadie Hundemer and Shenara RamadanMarch 1, 2024Local and regional news media often have a major impact on public awareness of and interest in water challenges. It is not simply what the media report that affects public perceptions, but also how they report it. A study of nine years of water reporting from six newspapers in the Floridan Aquifer region revealed a hierarchy of frames used to relate water conditions to human interests. The dominant reasons provided for readers to care about water conditions were economics, human health, and ecosystem impacts (in that order). Ecosystem impacts receive comparatively little journalistic attention, and this may have unintended effects. For example, public interest in water issues may not be as high as it would be if ecosystem impacts were robustly covered. Water news framing can also impact the objectives of water policy. If ecosystem impacts are not emphasized in the media, they may not be adequately attended to in governance.  

Part 5

Communicating About Water in the Floridan Aquifer Region: Part 5—Increasing Collaboration Between Producers and Environmentalists on Water Challenges

WC449/AEC788by Sadie Hundemer and Shenara RamadanMarch 1, 2024In the Floridan Aquifer region, agricultural producers (farmers and ranchers) and environmentalists are essential water stakeholders, yet they are often perceived to be in conflict over water management. This perceived conflict could be a major impediment to future water policy action. Recent research examined whether there are areas of agreement that could unite producers and environmentalists in support of mutually beneficial water management strategies. A 2017–2018 study found substantial similarities of water priorities between producers and environmentalists despite some areas of disagreement. Capitalizing on shared interests could provide water communicators with a strong basis for developing partnerships and addressing areas of dispute. 

Part 6

Communicating About Water in the Floridan Aquifer Region: Part 6—Stakeholders’ Mental Models of Regional Water Challenges

WC446/AEC785by Sadie Hundemer and Shenara RamadanMarch 1, 2024If we could look into the minds of agricultural producers and environmentalists to see how they think about regional water challenges, we may be better able to help stakeholders understand each other’s perspectives and resolve perceived conflicts. A 2017–2018 study provides visual maps of producers’ and environmentalists’ conceptions of the relationship between water and the regional economy. The maps reveal that the groups think about the topic in fundamentally different ways. While surveyed producers possess an agricultural, operational-level view of the water-economic system that includes the protective actions taken by individual farmers and ranchers, environmentalists possess a watershed-level view of the water-economic system that highlights the detrimental collective impacts of the agricultural industry as a whole. The findings suggest steps that water communicators can take to reduce perceived conflict between the groups.