No rest for Shelter Island Irrigation Committee

JULIE LANE PHOTO | There’s plenty of water if property owners don’t waste it, John Hallman said at Thursday night’s Irrigation Committee meeting, seen here with an illustration. Allowing automatic irrigation systems to be used is wasting water, he said.

With an early December deadline looming for the new Shelter Island Irrigation Committee, the group will work a weekend.

Thursday night Chairman Thom Mlton called for a Saturday meeting to encourage part-time residents to offer information they have whether or not a ban on automatic irrigation systems should be implemented. The meeting will be Saturday, October 19, at 2 p.m. at Town Hall.

A preliminary report on the committee’s work is slated to be presented to the Town Board on December 3.

The committee is tasked with providing facts to guide the Town Board in making its decision by next May.

While there are a number of meetings yet to be held, first reports from committee members have dealt with questions such as:
• If today’s automatic irrigation systems are more efficient, using less water than a traditional hose or sprinkler;
• If a ban is adopted should it apply Island-wide or only in those areas along the shore, such as Ram Island and Silver Beach;
• Should the sources of trucked-in water be tested;
• Should residents with cisterns be allowed to collect runoff water from roofs:
• Do chemicals in use by some property owners affect the quality of the water in the aquifer.

“We don’t have as much water as we think we have,” John Hallman, a committee member and chairman of the town’s Water Advisory Council, told his colleagues. “We have more than enough water for what we need it for, but let’s not waste it. Irrigation is wasting it.”

The problem isn’t immediate in most areas, Mr. Hallman said, but Islanders have an obligation to care for the aquifer so it can serve future generations. There are parts of the Island such as Silver Beach where residents are “struggling to get good clean water” because of salt intrusion, Mr. Hallman said, while residents in the Center can use the water they need without a crisis. His message to those in threatened areas who may be over-watering lawns or illegally filling swimming pools with local water is straight forward: “You’re going to screw up your own well.”

He added that those who compromise their wells by overuse don’t seem to learn. They simply pay to have a new well dug.

The problem with many existing irrigation systems on Shelter Island, according to committee member Lion Zust, is that because of the ban on new systems since 2003, those with antiquated systems have been unable to upgrade.

That brought resident Stewart Senter to the forefront. He operates Automatic Irrigation Design, a leading installer of lawn sprinkler systems in the tri-state area, and has been putting in systems for 52 years, he said.

Today’s technology has advanced dramatically from what existed 10 years ago, Mr. Senter said. The system installed at his home on Pheasant Circle in the West Neck Harbor area is designed to water six sectors and he has it set to water two each night for 40 minutes during the summer season. The system shuts down if there’s a 1/8-inch rainfall and all settings can be and often are changed, even remotely via a Smartphone.

Mr. Senter estimated he uses 480 gallons of water per day on his lawn in season and if he were to water the same area with a hose, he would use seven times that amount. As a West Neck Harbor resident, he said he’s sensitive to the fragile water system on the Island and the potential for salt water intrusion into his well.

Instead of banning automatic irrigation systems, the town should be mandating systems that are water-efficent, Mr. Senter said.

The Town Board has narrowed down its choices for a hydrologist to work with the committee, according to Supervisor Jim Dougherty, and the appointment will be made shortly.

The Irrigation Committee’s next meeting is 7 p.m. Thursday, October 10, at Town Hall. All meetings are open to the public.

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