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Irrigation Committee back to Island-wide restrictions

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Before moving ahead with its recommendations to the Town Board, Irrigation Committee member Robert Grosbard questioned at the July 3 meeting why any restrictions should be imposed.

JULIE LANE PHOTO |
Before moving ahead with its recommendations to the Town Board, Irrigation Committee member Robert Grosbard questioned at the July 3 meeting why any restrictions should be imposed.

With less than two weeks before it presents its final report to the Town Board, the Irrigation Committee on July 3 was leaning toward recommending adoption of regulations for existing automatic irrigation systems and drip irrigation systems to be imposed Island-wide.

But that didn’t come before a debate about why any action should be taken, since recent tests revealed no significant changes from testing over the past 40 years.

Member Robert Grosbard raised the question of why any recommendations suggested by consulting hydrogeologist John Benvegna should be implemented, given the tiny impact — one tenth of 1 percent — irrigation systems have on water use.

Mr. Benvegna’s report “shouldn’t be taken as a Bible,” Mr. Grosbard said.

But committee chairman Thom Milton said that while he agreed fluctuations were minor, his concerns extend to all water use, not just irrigation. And one recommendation Mr. Benvegna made is for regular testing of chloride levels in wells, a critical issue if residents are to be assured of potable water.

“It’s almost a political kind of thing,” said Councilman Paul Shepherd, the Town Board’s liaison to the Irrigation Committee, about imposing limits Island-wide. While acknowledging that irrigation systems may not pose a problem during years of sufficient rain, during a dry season, there could be problems, he said.

Lion Zust, a former committee member who resigned but has attended several meetings, said it’s important to respond to problems with water use even if irrigation systems aren’t the main culprit. And she pointed out that with the prohibition against upgrading irrigation systems in effect since 2003, people have been unable make their systems operate more efficiently.

There are people in low lying areas who have water problems, Mr. Milton said, while again suggesting that some areas of the Island — the Center, the Heights and parts of Hay Beach — don’t really need controls.

Walter Richards, who operates a landscaping business, said there are areas where irrigation systems have been in operation for years without a problem, and if a homeowner salts his well once, he’s likely to learn how to avoid doing so again. He said he knows of four or five instances of people whose wells became salted and it wasn’t a permanent condition.

The committee was inclined to allow the 109 registered owners of such systems to continue to use them providing they upgrade them to include a time clock, particle flow meter, rain sensor and battery backup system.

Owners would have to pay a fee to get annual permits. If new systems are allowed, they would require cisterns filled with trucked-in water. But the committee also wants the Town Board to approve use of runoff water from roofs, something currently prohibited.

As for enforcement, Mr. Richards suggested a formula that would include producing receipts for trucked-in water, but he said spot inspections would suffice so the Building Department wouldn’t be charged with inspecting all systems on a regular basis.

As for regulating drip systems, the committee wanted to look at some numbers relating to them before deciding how to control them. At the same time, they made it clear they favor regulations for turf watering using either the automatic irrigation or drip systems.

The committee was to meet tonight, Thursday, July 10 at 7 p.m. to polish its final report before presenting it to the Town Board at a July 15 work session.

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