Reader Profile: Debra Burden

July 11, 2018

IN CITRUS COUNTY, FL, irrigation accounts for about half of residential water consumption, “and our water use is threatening to grow beyond our permit limits,” notes Debra Burden, water conservation manager in Florida’s Citrus County Department of Water Resources. To enforce two-day maximum weekly water restrictions, a team patrols the city and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) data is used to pinpoint wrong day and time violations. Education regarding allowable watering days is the goal of the enforcement effort, says Burden, adding that “we find most citizens want to comply and adjust schedules promptly after being noticed.” The department’s team also works with customers at their homes and in the classroom to teach irrigation efficiency principles and proper scheduling. “Many residents have never had an irrigation system before moving to Florida,” notes Burden. “It’s important to offer customers realistic expectations of landscapes and grass here. Often, new residents think that all of Florida is tropical and therefore lush, or that they can have landscapes similar to their northern homes. While we have beautiful landscapes, they are neither tropical nor similar to those in the north and supporting the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program helps send this message home.”

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Youth education is key as children are current and future water savers, says Burden. Among the most popular annual youth programs is a classroom toilet leak detection challenge in which students in grades three through five use leak detection tools to check their home toilets and compete for a pizza party, with some 600 toilets tested annually. “The process teaches parents and students alike about water waste from leaks,” says Burden. “Teachers tell me discussing the results with students can be quite an entertaining discussion.” Another popular student program is one in which budding artists in grades K–12 submit posters depicting water-saving ideas. “Offering cash prizes to winning students and teachers really kick-started this initiative in recent years,” notes Burden. “Some artwork has even won at the statewide level. The posters also are great for promoting best management practices throughout the year.” In recognition of its successful efforts, Citrus County has twice been designated a US Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense Partner of the Year.

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What She Does Day to Day
In executing her tasks as the manager of water conservation and water restriction enforcement for the Citrus County Department of Water Resources, Burden can be found at her desk most days designing, implementing, and gathering results of educational and incentive programs to reduce customers’ water use.

What Led Her to This Line of Work
Burden earned a B.S. degree in public relations from the University of Florida. “For many years, I worked in the construction industry in one form or another,” she says. “I’d hoped to move into a career that had a cause, something in which I could find personal meaning and feel good about advocating. Saving water certainly fit the bill. I jumped at the opportunity to embark on this path about seven years ago. My public relations training is well-suited to the education and results aspects of my position.”

What She Likes Best About Her Work
Every day offers a new task, problem to solve, or customer to help, notes Burden. “I design newsletters, brochures, mailings. I gather numbers, create charts, prepare reports, and do presentations. I also lead a team geared toward educating customers on how to save water. My job definitely offers variety and I love that. While we have tried-and-true programs that reduce indoor water use such as incentives to replace outdated toilets with WaterSense labeled models, outdoor programs are still evolving,” she says. “It is exciting to be on the forefront of those initiatives and a leader in creating new programs to address outdoor water use. I have many years left to dedicate to water conservation awareness. In the end, I just want to have made a difference.”

Her Greatest Challenge
“Addressing high outdoor water consumption is certainly my greatest challenge,” says Burden. “Our water systems are located in predominately deed restricted retirement communities where many believe lots of irrigation is needed to maintain a beautiful landscape. While that isn’t necessarily the case here in Florida, it is a challenge to convince citizens, contractors, developers, and homeowner associations otherwise.” 
About the Author

Carol Brzozowski

Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.