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Irrigation committee still debating

JULIE LANE PHOTO |  Irrigation Committee Consultant John Benvegna.
Irrigation Committee Consultant John Benvegna.

There were hints at the Irrigation Committee’s most recent meeting about advice the Town Board might receive regarding the proposed ban on automatic irrigation systems.

If the committee requires use of cisterns filled with off-Island water for those with existing systems, is it fair to impose that regulation on residents in areas where there isn’t a water shortage? That was Chairman Thom Milton’s question at the March 20 meeting as he contemplated the possible $30,000 cost of installing a cistern and the expense of trucking in water to fill it.

How do you tell residents in Hay Beach they have to install expensive cisterns and truck in water because of problems people are having with water in Silver Beach?

“Maybe you have to put on your big boy underwear and if you’re going to regulate, regulate,” said committee member Mary Wilson.

The committee has determined there are 109 permitted systems. But it may be double that number, given the homeowners who haven’t bothered to report them.

And whatever the actual number of systems, consultant John Benvegna of Leggette, Brashears & Graham has told the committee the impact to the town’s fragile aquifer is minimal. At the same time, Mr. Benvegna has been clear that even with the various month-to-month or even season-to-season readings of water levels, the problem needs to be defined by trends, not a single or even a few field tests.

On the other hand, Silver Beach residents have had problems with water supply for 40 to 50 years, Ms. Wilson said.
That’s not the result of irrigation systems, said member Walter Richards, who owns a landscaping company,, calling it “an act of God.”

But Mr. Richards offered several regulations he believes would help address the issue, including allowing drip systems, capturing rain water and prohibiting new irrigation systems, while ensuring existing systems are properly upgraded and maintained.

If problems are resulting from some people over pumping their wells, that’s their problem, Mr. Milton said.

But it impacts everyone in the area, Ms. Wilson pointed out.

There’s also a concern about mixed messages the committee has been given whether sophisticated irrigation systems are more or less efficient than hand watering. Dr. Tamson Yeh, turf management and pesticide specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension, told the committee in early March the most expensive and sophisticated of automatic irrigation systems waste more water than hand watering. While purchasers of automatic systems are told they can set it and forget it, that’s not the case, she said, advising people, except in extremely hot and dry periods, to allow Mother Nature to take care of most of their watering needs.

But others — many of whom have been landscapers or sellers of the automatic systems — have proclaimed their greater efficiency over hand watering.

People can have the most efficient systems, but there’s still the human element that can “screw things up,” said Mr. Grosbard.

There has to be a way to offer an incentive to people to compensate for that human element, Mr. Richards said.

“You can never legislate common sense,” Ms. Wilson said.

“It’s an education thing for those 109 people so if you get them on board, you should be okay,” Mr. Richards said.
Is metering the answer? Mr. Grosbard wondered.

All agreed that drip systems are likely the most efficient means of getting water to those areas where it’s needed.

Another aspect the committee could consider is licensing those companies that install and maintain automatic systems.
Councilman Paul Shepherd, liaison to the committee, let it be known he’s leaning toward not allowing new systems.

Defining that bill
After Supervisor Jim Dougherty questioned a more than $10,000 bill from Leggette, Brashears and Graham and then Water Advisory Committee chairman and Irrigation Committee member John Hallman said engineers like LB&G “tell you one thing, but then they go off on tangents” that cost a lot of money, Mr. Milton came to the defense of the consulting firm.

The anticipated $5,000 for January field tests actually came in at $4,986 with the rest of the bill relating to charges for other work Mr. Benvegna has done at the committee’s request, he said.

The Town Board holds a public hearing Friday at 4:50 p.m. on the Irrigation Committee request to delay its final report and extend the moratorium on the irrigation ban until December 31.