Editorial: Kicking the can or common sense?

REPORTER FILE PHOTO

Above is the question surrounding the town’s Irrigation Committee’s request to the Town Board to postpone a report on implementing a ban on automatic sprinkler systems.

If ever there’s been another local issue engulfed by the word “postpone,” we can’t think of it. This one was born postponed, when, in 2003, with the town in a water emergency, the board passed a law banning the installation of new sprinkler systems but allowed those already in use to remain for 10 years. That “sunset” provision was postponed until September 1 of last year.
But last July, with the law looming ahead, and hearing some heated public exchanges, the board — you got it — passed a resolution to suspend the law slated to kick in until May 1, 2014, and formed a committee to study the issue.

There was supposed to be a report from the committee by December, which consisted of Thom Milton, chairman of the committee, telling the board that they were working hard, had hired a consultant and were mapping the aquifer. A final report would be ready for review by February. But now the request is to extend the report until mid-July, which, if you’re keeping score, is a year after the board originally postponed a law passed 10 years before.

But some slack should be cut here, because of that second question mentioned above — common sense. More research seems to be needed, and the committee is also handling political dynamite. First the research: Data has to be sifted going back 20 to 30 years and its own professional consultant has said that while there is only one aquifer, water doesn’t flow from one part of the Island to another. The Rams, West Neck, Silver Beach and other areas won’t benefit even if there’s an abundance of water in the Center. If the committee recommends a ban, it appears it could be limited to certain low-lying Island zones. Politically, it may cause outrage to impose rules in some areas and not others. But it’s hard to argue with the facts.

What doesn’t add up — at least not yet — is why a solution suggested 10 years ago without much investigation is the answer to today’s concerns about the aquifer. Evidence points to the fact that technology for automatic irrigation systems is much improved in the past decade and there’s no indication that the systems have much, if any, impact on the aquifer, according to the consultant. The committee has heard that more water is likely to be wasted by those using a hose or sprinkler to tend to their lawns and gardens than is used by those with the automatic systems that can be adjusted to respond to weather conditions.

At the same time, controls need to be in place for tougher restrictions in times of droughts. The town ahould impose strict enforcement of hours during which lawns and gardens can be watered. Heavy fines should be levied on those who fail to honor that law. And consider requiring meters and setting water use limits in areas when droughts threaten to affect not only a property owner’s well, but neighbors’ wells.

And please, can  the word “postpone” be removed from the discussions?