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Irrigation Committee: Keep existing systems

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Irrigation Committee Chairman Thom Milton fielded questions from the Town Board Tuesday.
Irrigation Committee Chairman Thom Milton fielded questions from the Town Board Tuesday.

If you have one of the town-permitted 109 irrigation (sprinkler) systems, you should be allowed to continue to use it.

That’s’ provided you agree to upgrade it and you may have to certify it, at least annually.

Although still sketchy, that’s the major recommendation from the Irrigation Committee gave to the Town Board Tuesday. The committee has spent almost a year gathering data and debating its recommendations.

Whether other recommendations should be implemented townwide or only in specifically sensitive areas are issues the committee failed to reach a consensus on.

In the two-hour session Tuesday, board members got a sense of not just what the committee is recommending, but a flavor for the meetings that occurred practically every other week since the beginning of September 2013.

That was the date the town had expected to implement a ban on irrigation systems, only to delay it to enable the appointed committee to explore whether the legislation passed in 2003 should or shouldn’t take effect.

Committee Chairman Thom Milton acknowledged “some bumps along the way” in reaching an agreement on recommendations. “I think the debate will continue” as the Town Board holds more meetings on the subject, he added.

One of those bumps concerned differences of opinion between Mr. Milton and member John Hallman, long-time chairman of the Water Advisory Council. While he went along with the report, Mr. Hallman said he still favored implementing the ban now and would have done so back in 2003, not delayed implementation for 10 years.

“We’re never going to run out of water, but it may be salty,” Mr. Hallman warned the Town Board. “I just feel that the ban should continue.” And if irrigation systems are going to be allowed, the town should employ a code enforcement officer trained in inspecting them to ensure they’re working properly, he said.

Mr. Milton argued that regulating the use of systems in sensitive parts of town and leaving others untouched is backed up by the facts. Committee member Mary Wilson, the town’s building permits coordinator, warned against “carving up the Island” with different regulations for various neighborhoods.

It will now fall to the Town Board to further discuss the recommendations and to open up that discussion to residents before deciding what to implement and, if there are to be regulations, how to enforce them.

Based on field tests, the committee concluded that the existence of irrigation systems has almost no impact on water consumption on Shelter Island; residents should be allowed to continue to use them if they upgrade to include a time clock controller, flow meter, battery backup, rain sensor, soil moisture sensor and a water meter. The committee also recommends a method of certifying systems annually.

Permit and certification fees and fines could be used to pay for enforcement. But some on the committee preferred education and incentives to punishments. That, too, will fall to the Town Board to decide.

Also left open was whether the town should allow additional irrigation systems to be added to those currently permitted. The committee left that decision to the board since members believe its charge was to decide what to do about existing systems, not potential new ones. But Ms. Wilson said she would not only prohibit new systems, but for those who have systems without permits, she would like to see them ripped out.

All members agreed that hose or sprinkler system watering is inefficient and wasteful.

The committee generally agreed that concerns about chloride levels in wells pose different problems in some low lying and peninsula areas, but not in the Center and the Heights. Mr. Milton argued for restrictions only in those low lying and peninsula areas while Ms. Wilson maintained rules must apply Island-wide.

For those with cisterns, they are to be filled with water trucked-in from off-Island, but the committee is recommending that runoff from roofs and paved systems be allowed to recharge the cisterns. That’s currently prohibited because prior to the committee’s work, it was thought that runoff would recharge the aquifer. Instead, much of it either evaporates or lands in surrounding waterways.