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New plans for clean Shelter Island water

It has been the season of plans for the Town Board.

Last week, there was a document presented to organize a Comprehensive Plan for the town’s future as well as an effort to secure Suffolk County money for a makeover of the Center. And on Tuesday, a “Ground and Surface Water Management Plan” was unveiled at the board’s work session.

The detailed, thorough and ambitious proposal was presented by Councilman Mike Bebon, who is also the chairman of the Water Advisory Committee. The committee has been working on the plan for nearly a year and, tellingly, all members of the committee were present in the audience at Town Hall to support it.

The strategies to be employed to come to grips with what has been called a water crisis, are broken down in the plan into time frames from the present to five years in the future; from 6 to 10 years; and “11-plus years,” as the plan states.

The fundamental idea is that “Shelter Island should control and optimize the use of its groundwater resources,” and all residents must have access to safe drinking water.

The committee has determined that the water in the aquifer, which is replenished through rainfall, “substantially exceeds the annual demand.” This means the committee has decided that importing off-Island water is a nonstarter and would be considered only as “a last resort.”

Also, the plan stresses the importance of community buy-in to proposed measures, and Mr. Bebon said there will be public meetings on the ideas expressed in the plan, as well as constant work with Island institutions.

The measures to be taken are many, and will be discussed in the weeks to come, but they include proposing the creation of water districts — such as the West Neck Water District — and groups of residents sharing common wells, as well as the introduction of metering of water use at private homes. When this was brought up, it was endorsed by Councilman Jim Colligan, who has mentioned his support for water meters in the past, and several members of the committee agreed on Tuesday.

Wastewater discharged into the aquifer would have to meet a designated measure of nitrogen, and surface waters on the Island and surrounding it “will not be negatively impacted by human activity.”

Another idea that received immediate support, especially from Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams, is the training and licensing of landscapers in turf management, so that they are aware of negative consequences to the aquifer from chemical products used in their work. This could be done before the summer season, Ms. Brach-Williams said.

One outcome the committee is seeking is requiring businesses selling fertilizer “to post fertilizer areas with the notice required by Suffolk County,” and provide enforcement. The plan also calls for the use of “50% slow release” fertilizers on the Island. Slow release means a gradual release of fertilizers over time. 

Another idea is to develop a wastewater treatment facility for the Center, which has municipal buildings, the library, police headquarters and the Center Firehouse.

The committee’s proposal includes several ideas to increase the number of I/A (Innovative Alternative) septic systems, including requiring them when cesspools are upgraded and on property transfers, if feasible.

The Reporter will continue to look into the plan, and provide updates of efforts to implement the proposals.