Reporter Editorial: Just the facts, please



It is nearly a year since the Town Board delayed a decision on whether or not to implement a ban on automatic irrigation — sprinkler — systems.

The ban was approved in 2003, but its implementation was delayed 10 years and not even discussed until a month before it was to take effect in September 2013.

Having ignored the issue until then, there seemed to be little choice but to give in to demands to determine if there had been scientific or technological changes worth investigating before denying people the right to continue to use their irrigation systems.

When in doubt about facing a situation, Politics 101 dictates that you form a committee, which is what the Town Board did.

Legitimate questions such as improving technology and the condition of the Island’s aquifer became the basis for the committee to explore. That exploration has taken almost a year and cost thousands of dollars, paid mostly by the Shelter Island Association, for a consultant to compile former studies and launch new field tests.

It appears the Irrigation Committee will suggest that curtailment of irrigation systems needs to be targeted at low-lying areas of the Island — the Rams, Silver Beach and Shorewood — and not implemented Island-wide. But instead of a ban, the committee might suggest upgrades to existing systems and monitoring of new systems and their effect on water use. If a system is correctly installed and regularly maintained, it’s likely to result in more efficient use of water than occurs with sprinklers, since most sprinklers now often cause over-watering and spilling of water on driveways and roadways where nothing grows.

Residents who over-pump their wells to feed irrigation systems will quickly discover that action results in a salted well and, sometimes, the need to drill a new and expensive well. And a resident whose water use affects neighbors’ wells will have to answer for damages in court.

While Irrigation Committee member and Building Permits Coordinator Mary Wilson is right that the town lacks the resources to enforce restrictions, heavy fines for those who are caught failing to certify that their irrigation systems are being properly installed and maintained will quickly send a message to others.

And fees for annual certification can cover the costs of hiring a seasonal inspector, similar to the traffic control officers hired during the summer by the Police Department.

What’s more, the Water Advisory Committee will continue to have the authority to advise the Town Board to impose water restrictions in the event of a drought.

The only question is whether the Town Board will have the political will to follow the facts and not choose political expediency.