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Irrigation law to take center stage next month
Shelter Island’s Water Advisory Committee will take a hard look next month at the planned ban on new underground irrigation systems.
The ban is slated to take effect in September, but committee member Walter Richards has been expressing doubts about its enforceability. At Monday night’s meeting, he suggested that existing irrigation systems might be grandfathered so they wouldn’t have to comply with the law that requires the use of cisterns fed by off-Island water to avoid using groundwater to irrigate lawns and gardens.
There are 128 legally licensed underground irrigation systems installed on Shelter Island and about 20 that have no license, according to Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty, liaison to the WAC. Most are installed in “the most vulnerable areas” of the Island, he said.
The committee has talked about the pending ban from time to time but has yet to make any formal recommendations to the Town Board. Mr. Dougherty told members Monday night he expects the Town Board to begin its talks about the legislation in April. It would be helpful to have input from the WAC at that time, he said.
In January, Mr. Richards, a Shelter Island Police officer, said he thought the ban would be difficult to enforce.
The new law calls for cisterns to be filled with clean water from an off-Island source, but even if the town could assure that’s being done, Mr. Richards has concerns about whether the cisterns would be used properly to ensure they’re doing the job intended.
In 2003 an earlier Town Board passed the legislation that’s intended to protect the Island from drought conditions. It immediately banned new irrigation systems unless they had cisterns fed by off-Island water. But it included the provision that as of September 2013, no new underground irrigation systems would be allowed.
Mr. Dougherty has called that move “visionary” and said it now falls to the current Town Board to take the steps necessary to ensuring that the Island’s water supply remains adequate.
Shelter Island has been successful in protecting well water so it doesn’t have to connect to the Suffolk County Water Authority system.
Despite the intent of the law to continue to protect the Island’s narrow and shallow aquifer, there have been some who have lobbied the Town Board to reverse the law before it takes full effect in September.