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Climate change a factor for Island’s potable water

JULIE LANE PHOTO Water Advisory Committee member Ken Pysher warned his colleagues that more attention needs to be paid to climate change if the Island is to have a sufficient amount of potable water in the future.

JULIE LANE PHOTO
Water Advisory Committee member Ken Pysher warned his colleagues that more attention needs to be paid to climate change if the Island is to have a sufficient amount of potable water in the future.

Shelter Island could soon be in the same boat as the Ancient Mariner: “Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.”

That’s if today’s studies of water adequacy don’t take climate changes into consideration, according to Water Advisory Committee member Ken Pysher

“There’s no question we’ve got plenty of water,” Mr. Pysher said. “The question is whether we’re going to be able to drink it.”

His comments came at Monday night’s Water Advisory Committee meeting, sharing information on studies of how global warming could result in adequate water in wells, but little that’s potable.

“A rising water table on Shelter Island may cause a substantial increase in water pollution, thereby further reducing the effective volume of potable water available to the residents of Shelter Island,” Mr. Pysher quoted a 2007 report by Daniel David Rozell of Stony Brook University aimed at quantifying the impact of global warming. Mr. Pysher backed up that report with more recent articles from the prestigious British magazine, the Economist.

He’s sent his findings to Irrigation Committee Chairman Thom Milton, who has raised his own questions about possible effects of climate change on the Island’s water supply. Mr. Pysher has also sent several questions through Mr. Milton to John Benvegna of Leggette, Brashears & Graham, the committee’s consultant, pertaining to long-term effects of climate change, but has yet to get a response.

What he wants to know is:
•   Does a rising water table indicated by the upward trend in several wells mean that Shelter Island has more potable water or is it just the effect of an increased height in sea level that might imply less potable water?
•   Will use of irrigation systems increase the probability of potable water becoming contaminated as the sea level rises in the near shore areas like Silver Beach where the shallow aquifer is close to the surface and   where septic tank rings are located?
•    Can Shelter Island use the Rozell study to make informed long-term water resource management decisions?

With respect to current test well data that Mr. Pysher compiles from numbers provided by the United States Geological Survey, he offered mostly good news, with a note of caution.

“Things have turned basically” and all but a couple of test wells are trending up. He predicted that the next tests to be done this week will show all well water levels trending up. At the same time, he cautioned that there are only a couple of months left when the aquifer is typically replenished before warmer weather and a large influx of Island summer people and visitors results in heavy water usage.

“We’re in good shape,” Mr. Pysher said, admitting he was “nervous for quite some time” that this could be a year when the committee would have to have the town impose water restrictions.

“April showers will be welcomed,” he said.

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