Reporter Editorial: Act sooner on irrigation

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | Irrigation Committee Chairman Thom MIlton addressing the town board Tuesday. From left, Councilman Paul Shepherd, Supervisor Jim Dougherty and Councilman Ed Browne. Not seen, Councilwoman Chris Lewis. Councilman Peter Reich was absent.

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Irrigation Committee Chairman Thom MIlton addressing the town board Tuesday. From left, Councilman Paul Shepherd, Supervisor Jim Dougherty and Councilman Ed Browne. Not seen, Councilwoman Chris Lewis. Councilman Peter Reich was absent.

The Town Board is expected to vote unanimously on Friday to set a public hearing to extend the moratorium banning automatic irrigation systems The town’s Irrigation Committee has also received a delay to present a final report to the Town Board on its findings and recommendations from the beginning of February to mid-July .
Ironically, that’s something committee members tried to avoid. Had the committee, from the outset, recognized the need for updated field reports — existing reports are 20 to 30 years old — the extension might not have been needed.

Now there is the possibility — distinct, but not out of the question considering the pace of government — that the committee report and subsequent action by the Town Board could leave residents scrambling to comply with new regulations in time for the summer of 2015.

Committee member John Hallman, who also chairs the Water Advisory Committee, accused the Town Board of a political ploy in delaying implementation of an unpopular ban. We bow to his knowledge and hard work, but we’re not entirely convinced there wasn’t a need to look at factors that have changed since the law was first written in 2003.

Automatic irrigation systems are more sophisticated today than 10 years ago. If operated correctly it’s unlikely they would use as much water as people who hose their lawns by hand. And the committee’s consultant, hydrogeologist John Benvegna, has suggested that these updated irrigation systems have little impact on the aquifer.

At the same time, we know there are areas of the Island where residents turn on the tap during a dry, hot August and find nothing flowing. Mr. Hallman is right when he points out that some are over-using water, resulting in salting their own and neighbors’ wells.

Sadly, few people appear to be listening, despite Chairman Thom Milton’s call for more public education. All they want to know is whether they can use existing systems; need to install cisterns; can install new systems, or will be banned from doing so. Also sad but true, many residents won’t accept facts that don’t jibe with their preconceived opinions.

We believe the Town Board should move this issue to the top of the priority list, and should ask for a final committee report before July, and act sooner than New Year’s Eve.

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