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Irrigation Committee to begin draft report

JULIE LANE PHOTO Irrigation committee member Robert Grosbard wins agreement from his colleagues to begin drafting a report to the Town Board.

Irrigation committee member Robert Grosbard wins agreement from his colleagues to begin drafting a report to the Town Board.

Eight months into an investigation on whether to implement a ban on automatic irrigation systems, committee members will begin to draft a report to the Town Board in May with an eye toward completing most of it by late June.

The only additional information the Irrigation Committee is likely to have to add are results of field tests scheduled in June that will be compiled by consultant John Benvegna of Connecticut-based Leggette, Brashears & Graham.

Committee members agreed at Thursday night’s meeting that while the Town Board might be well advised to look at old septic systems and other elements affecting the quality of water, that’s not within the committee’s charge.

“We could discuss it until we’re blue in the face,” committee member Robert Grosbard said. While there are some areas of disagreement that will be reflected in the final report to the Town Board, there has been a lot of consensus, Mr. Grosbard said.

“We’ve been disagreeing enough that we’ve come to agreement,” he said. “We’re really at a point where the town needs to hear from us,” he said.

At the May 8 Irrigation Committee meeting, the committee will focus briefly on water quality issues, compiling a draft of that section of their report. But more time will be spent on technology changes and how the best automatic irrigation systems operate today.

The committee won’t recommend one manufacturer over another in the report, but will offer observations about the various changes that have occurred in the systems since the ban on their use was first conceived in 2003. At that time, the Town Board opted to delay implementation of the ban until September 2013, then extended that date to give this committee time to study circumstances that may have changed that could affect whether or not to implement the ban at all.

The committee still wants to speak about water consumption practices with grounds keepers at the Gardiners Bay Country Club and the Shelter Island Country Club, representatives from the Heights Property Owners Corporation. At issue is whether existing exemptions that would allow golf course tees and greens, existing fairways as of the time the law took effect in 2003 and agricultural production facilities, including nurseries, to continue to use irrigation systems.

The committee previously heard from Cara Loriz, Sylvester Manor’s executive director, about the farming activities there. She said Sylvester Manor has no plans to farm more than 10 acres of land.

There are a number of questions posed to. Mr. Benvegna by Irrigation Committee members and Ken Pysher of the Water Advisory Committee that are still outstanding. Those answers are expected in about a week, according to Irrigation Committee chairman Thom Milton.

“We don’t have a problem at the moment with what we have,” said committee member Walter Richards.

What he wants to know is whether if Islanders and visitors continue water use as they have been doing, what will be the long-term effect and what laws would be needed to change consumption to protect the water supply. He noted that in seeking privacy, many residents over-plant their grounds, requiring more watering than would be needed if they would allow bushes and trees to grow and spread more naturally.

While  committee members discussed incentives to decrease water usage, there was some skepticism about how effective that might be. Some users, even if they were being monitored, would pay high water bills just to keep doing what they’re doing, committee member John Hallman said. His reference was mostly to commercial users whose businesses could sustain larger water bills.

And that brought the committee full circle to a question that has plagued them from day one: “What good is having a law if we’re not going to have one that’s enforceable?” Mr. Milton asked.

That remains unanswered.

The Irrigation Committee meets next on May 8 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

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