Reporter editorial: When ‘long term’ means now

JULIE LANE PHOTO |  Irrigation Committee Consultant John Benvegna.
Irrigation Committee Consultant John Benvegna. Ken Pysher is concerned Mr. Benvegna’s studies are only looking at the short term when it comes to the Island’s drinking water.

For all the studies past and current of Shelter Island’s aquifer, Water Advisory Committee member Ken Pysher fears that everyone is overlooking something — what happens in the long-term to the quality of the water under our feet.

And when you start looking into the future of anything, long-term becomes today in a hurry.

Mr. Pysher, in his research, has brought home to the Island the worldwide discussion of the affects of climate change.

Citing a 2007 scientific paper by Daniel David Rozell titled, “Quantifying the Impact of Global Warming on Saltwater Intrusion on Shelter Island,” and backing that with more recent articles from the prestigious news magazine, The Economist, Mr. Pysher warns that there may be plenty of water, but little that will be potable as early as 15 years from now, and drinkable water will become scarcer as time goes by.

He worries that current studies by the Irrigation Committee and its consultant, John Benvegna of Connecticut-based Leggette, Brashears & Graham, may be looking at factors in the short term, and failing to see how a rising water table resulting from global warming could increase the height in sea level, affecting the quality of water in wells throughout the Island.

Mr. Pysher has shared his information with Irrigation Committee Chairman Thom Milton and posed a number of questions to Mr. Benvegna, but so far has had little or no response from either man.

It’s true that Mr. Milton has raised similar concerns and promises to seek answers from the consultant on the long-term effects of global warming on the Island’s water. But open communication between Mr. Pysher and Mr. Milton can only result in positive outcomes.

The answers sought by Mr. Milton and Mr. Pysher are potentially more critical than whatever the Irrigation Committee and Town Board conclude about the immediate use or ban of automatic irrigation systems.

What’s essential is that town officials not just address one immediate impact on the aquifer, but understand and implement the need for ongoing monitoring of climate changes affecting Shelter Island’s water supply.