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No drought on Shelter Island; but Town Board wants to be prepared

The good news at the moment is Shelter Island is not on the National Drought Monitoring and Forecasting list of communities threatened by an inadequate water supply.

But despite the current situation reported to the Water Advisory Committee earlier this month by member Greg Toner, his colleague Ken Pysher advised that the replenishment level of water in the aquifer is somewhat behind for this time of year.

In Mr. Toner’s report to the Water Advisory Committee (WAC), he noted that much of the northeast remains in some level of drought. His numbers are based on readings provided to the town by the United States Geological Survey.

Most years, readings of water levels at test wells throughout the Island are provided monthly. In January, February and March, the town didn’t get much rain, he said. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine requirements for some USGS staff, there was no testing in September.

But October readings showed most wells were close to their median values.

Three of the big four wells — Congdon, Goat Hill and Manhansett — were up at 35% to 45% of their range for October. But Manwaring dropped “an extraordinary amount,” Mr. Toner said, explaining it was more than a foot below its usual September and October readings. Because there was no testing in September, however, the numbers were somewhat skewed, Mr. Toner said.

Of the other 12 test wells, five were above or at their median levels for October The other seven were below their norms, but most weren’t severely so, given the relative lack of rain, Mr. Toner said.

Despite the Island not being on the drought list, the Town Board wants to develop a plan for responding should a drought arise.

That could include everything from voluntary to required steps relating to:

• Limits on lawn watering to only every other day or even restrictions on any lawn watering.

• Restrictions on vehicle washing.

• No serving of water in restaurants unless it’s specifically requested by a customer.

• Under the worst conditions, some areas could be forced to use bottled water for drinking.

The question for Town Board members to decide is what circumstances would trigger any action on water restrictions.

There have been times in the past when a Water Advisory Committee recommended restrictions and the Town Board didn’t implement them. This Town Board would like to establish guidelines that would trigger actions.