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Intern setting the systems straight

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Kiera Nissen is trying to smooth the way for Islanders with irrigation systems to get them permitted while she tracks existing systems and adds them to the town’s GIS map.

Kiera Nissen is trying to smooth the way for Islanders with irrigation systems to get them permitted while she tracks existing systems and adds them to the town’s Geographic Information System map.

Residents who have an installed irrigation system but haven’t taken steps to get it permitted should be prepared to find a bright orange notice hanging on their doors.

The notice will instruct them about necessary steps to comply with Shelter Island’s new irrigation law, legislation hammered out over more than 18 months of study and discussion.

Step one to compy will start with a visit to Kiera Nissen, 19, the summer intern charged with aiding Islanders with the permit process and adding information to the town’s Geographic Information System (GIS ) map to identify working systems.

At the click of a mouse, Ms. Nissen can produce data showing where systems are, which are properly permitted and which are not.

Ms. Nissen is concentrating on reaching residents to inform them about new requirements and work that must be done to ensure their systems are operating efficiently.

“We want to make sure nobody is blind-sided by the law,” the young intern said.

Working in her office at the Building Department Monday morning, Ms. Nissen said she expects that at least half of those with systems will have permits in order.

The town is making it easy for new homeowners who have purchased property, unaware the irrigation systems were in place. If a new buyer can prove that a system was installed prior to 1996, tthey will be grandfathered with the same requirements for permitting, but not the more rigid requirements that owners of new systems must meet.

Most of the people she’s spoken to this year have been cordial, except for one woman who stormed into the office after receiving one of those orange notices. She complained that she felt like a criminal.

“I felt bad about that,” Ms. Nissen said. But once she explained the purpose of the notices, the woman understood and her anger subsided.

Ms. Nissen is a sophomore at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, studying civil engineering with plans to do master’s degree studies in environmental engineering. She spent many summers on Shelter Island, first as a camper at Camp Quinipet and later as a counselor-in-training.

She attended High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey, named the number one high school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report four times in the past five years for its STEM program — science, technology, engineering and math.

While Ms. Nissen knew early on that her career would be in engineering, this summer’s internship solidified her desire to pursue environmental aspect of the profession.

Water conservation was always an interest, but Ms. Nissen said she didn’t know a lot about irrigation systems until this summer.

“I enjoy it a lot more than I thought I would,” she said about the summer job.

The hard part this summer is getting applicants to get all their paperwork work pulled together, documenting required upgrades to each system and proving that all is operating properly.

Next summer should be easier for most people, since the procedure to obtain the annual permit will be understood, Ms. Nissen said.

In addition to assisting residents with the application process, she’s been conducting chloride tests. Of the 30 areas tested so far, only six are showing high levels.

As Ms. Nissen told the Town Board at a recent work session, there is a definite correlation between the amount of water used and chloride levels. It’s data the town should continue to test on a regular basis to determine short- and long-term trends.

“The idea behind the new law isn’t to put unnecessary costs on people,” but to ensure that systems are operating efficiently to preserve water, Ms. Nissen said.

Will her work continue next summer?

“I’m trying to make it so they don’t necessarily need me,” she said.