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Rain bodes well for Island’s aquifer


All that rain that’s been falling on your head for the past month is doing good things to the Shelter Island aquifer. That’s according to a report from the town’s Water Advisory Committee (WAC). Monday night member Ken Pysher told his colleagues that 4.37 inches of rain have fallen here since the beginning of 2018.

Readings for well water levels concerned members at the end of the year since Big Ram, Little Ram and the Menantic test wells were all at their lowest since levels started to be tracked in the late 1980s.

But January readings taken late in the month showed those well all bouncing back and rainy weather has persisted through a good part of February. These wells are watched carefully by the committee watches for trends and all were in line with their January median values, Mr. Pysher said. In addition, the Shorewood well was above its median reading.

Despite the low readings in December — some of which appeared to be an unexplained anomaly, Mr. Pysher said — there was no urgent concern since several months remained in the season for replenishing the aquifer.

Because it falls to the WAC to suggest the Town Board impose restrictions on water use, the committee is weighing a revised list of circumstances that could trigger actions.

The current system moves from:
• Normal, where test well levels are reasonable, but residents and visitors are advised to be conservative in their use of water.
• A warning, where levels indicate that a problem could be developing and the Town Board could suggest tighter conservation methods, but not impose mandatory restrictions.
• An emergency, where water levels are low and it would be up to the Town Board to impose mandatory restrictions on water use.
• A disaster, where water levels are critically low and it could be expected that mandatory water use restrictions would be required.

Mr. Pysher said he favors combining the emergency and disaster levels into a single step even though he can recall only one incidence where emergency measures were needed.

The committee is waiting for an updated report from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) on water quality testing that looks at the saltwater in wells as well as levels of nitrates and pesticides.

It also waits word from the Town Board on a request for the USGS to conduct a baseline study of other possible contaminants. Councilman Albert Dickson told members his Town Board colleagues favor the study, but their views have to be finalized with a vote. The committee would likely look to the Water

Quality Improvement Projects Advisory Board for $30,000 to fund that testing.

Committee members raised a question about planning if there’s the loss of water to any part of the Island.

Police Chief Jim Read, who is Island’s emergency management coordinator, said Tuesday that  a loss of water could happen in the event a hurricane knocked out electrical power. But there are a number of places around the Island that have generators for power to operate wells so residents could fill bottles with potable water.