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Suffolk County Water Authority just one solution for Island

How would Shelter Island be best served in dealing with water quantity and water quality issues?

Could the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA), which supplies water to the Village of Dering Harbor and communities on both the North and South forks be in the Island’s future?

Representatives of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) offered a look at what’s going on around Long Island and gave suggestions Monday morning for tools that could be used to measure water availability and nitrogen levels that threaten drinking water quality.

Town Engineer John Cronin, who is retiring from his post next month, arranged the virtual meeting with USGS officials who shared some proprietary information not yet ready for public release on what’s being done elsewhere on Long Island.

But it was Mr. Cronin who asked a critical question about whether public water suppliers pay as much attention to USGS data as Shelter Island does.

Following the meeting, he said he’s not a proponent of any one solution to the Island’s water issues. But alternatives are being explored, one of which could be use of a public water supply.

Maintaining private wells could still be “a perfectly good decision,” Mr. Cronin said. But it’s critical to have a solid model for evaluating water quality and quantity and that’s where USGS data helps, he added.

SCWA is among various organizations that have shared information with town officials about handling water issues. But in the past, the company has not pushed to provide water to the Island, saying the cost of infrastructure would be high.

USGS hydrologist Chris Schubert said public water suppliers want the same types of data to protect their investment. They want to know if there are local factors such as salt water intrusion that could affect the quality of water, he said.

The USGS works with other public water suppliers, hydrologist Ron Busciolaro said.

Factors affecting water quality include wastewater, residential fertilizer use, agriculture, livestock and atmosphere, hydrologist Don Walter said. Many of the pollutants that entered the water years ago from agricultural products no longer in use today still have a residual effect today, he said.

With rising sea levels, tides can also be contributing factors to the supply and quality of water.

The Island’s summer population, which typically grows from about 2,000 to as many as 11,000 people, adds stress to the water supply, Mr. Walter said.

It’s too early to put a price tag on monitoring various factors, particularly at a time where the  COVID-19 pandemic continues.

In the past several months, the routine water level testing hasn’t happened regularly, WAC member Greg Toner said. That’s because USGS experienced infections of the virus affecting its own staffing, he said. He speculated that because of the missed testing, the town may be able to recover some of the money it allocated for the monthly tests this year, he said.

In future years, there may be a means of some cost sharing, but that’s not in the cards at this stage, Mr. Schubert said.