Water availability is one of the key environmental and social issues of the present time. Places such as the southeast, southwest, and southern Great Plains of the United States are currently experiencing both long- and short-term water deficits and these shortfalls are projected to intensify (Georgakakos et al., 2014; Huang and Lamm, 2015). Urbanization and increasing population have led to urban residential landscapes that contribute to water scarcity (Shober et al., 2010). About half of the nation’s domestic water use is directed toward the landscape in the form of irrigation (DeOreo et al., 2016). In places such as central Florida, this amount can exceed 60% (Haley et al., 2007) and in Florida, the adoption of water conservation practices in the home landscape could save 46 million gallons (174,128.9 m3) of water per day (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2013).
Water conservation is considered an effective strategy to reduce the demand on this finite resource (Hurd, 2006; University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2011). However, to address environmental problems such as water scarcity it is necessary for people to change specific behaviors that influence the issue (Andreasen, 2006). Changing irrigation practices and technologies in the residential landscape has been identified as an opportunity for water conservation, and therefore, people who use irrigation at home represent an important audience for the Cooperative Extension Service (Warner et al., 2015).
Nationwide, public agencies, including the Cooperative Extension Service, offer programs on best landscape management practices such as research-based irrigation techniques that lead to water conservation (Huang and Lamm, 2015; Hurd, 2006; Shober et al., 2010). However, to elicit change, citizens must comprehend the issue and be encouraged to play a role in the solution (Andreasen, 2006). Extension is considered one of the most successful change agencies (Rogers, 2003), and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) extension focuses on encouraging sound irrigation practices statewide.
Evaluation is a critical step in extension programming because it documents outcomes and impacts, helps to define programmatic goals, and provides information for overall accountability (Cloyd, 2005; Hurd, 2006; Steil and Lyons, 2009). Further, funding agencies may require appropriate program evaluation so they can be certain of a program’s value to stakeholders (Steil and Lyons, 2009). The evaluation of complex, statewide extension programs can be difficult due to limited resources, lack of standard tools for water conservation program evaluation, and inadequate evaluation expertise (Glenn et al., 2015; Shepard, 2002; Steil and Lyons, 2009). The diversity of statewide water conservation programs can add to the challenge of conducting sound evaluation because innovative strategies are needed to identify their impacts (Shepard, 2002). These challenges have contributed to a lack of clarity about the long-term effects of water conservation programs (Syme et al., 2000).
Following horticultural program completion, it is common to identify short-term effects, such as temporary reductions in irrigation water usage (Borisova and Useche, 2013). However, there is great value in identifying long-term outcomes, such as changes in people’s long-term practices or their intrinsic beliefs. To address this challenge, we used survey research to examine possible differences among people who had or had not engaged in extension programming.
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