Near the end of a more than two-hour discussion on the Water Advisory Committee’s Ground and Surface Water Management Plan, Councilman Mike Bebon warned his Town Board colleagues that they must commit now to implementing recommendations on the quality and quantity of Island water.
That was at the May 18 Town Board work session in which the councilman, who chairs the Water Advisory Committee (WAC) outlined all of the recommendations. He wasn’t asking that every recommendation be implemented immediately, but that the Town Board commit to starting the process and to developing a time line for implementing others.
The Island has a single aquifer that must be protected, Mr. Bebon said.
Supervisor Gerry Siller asked the Town Board to review the recommendations and return on June 2 to discuss what can be undertaken now and how other steps can be staged in the future.
Money, all agreed,is at the crux of what can be done now. Mr. Bebon pointed out that grants, bonds and potential support from county, state and federal sources can help finance some costly recommendations.
But it appeared unlikely that despite the acknowledged need, there won’t be an immediate commitment to hiring a project manager. The WAC had advertised, hoping to find someone willing to volunteer services, but only one candidate responded and not for the water improvement recommendations, but for affordable housing.
Mr. Siller told the Board there is just so much the town can depend on volunteers to do, offering some encouragement that eventually there will have to be a paid project manager to implement many aspects of the plan.
What Town Board members could agree on last week was the need, in Deputy Town Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams’ words, to prioritize the many recommendations. Toward that end, Councilman Jim Colligan said it’s important to look first at “low hanging fruit” — those recommendations that can be accomplished relatively easily and inexpensively.
He noted that some areas were related to educating the public about steps they can take to conserve water; eliminate using toxic products to fertilize lawns; and end the use of dangerous pesticides.
Plans to license landscapers and require information on products they’re using can reduce worsening water conditions, Mr. Colligan said. He suggested lawn care workers be required, as part of the licensing process, to attend an annual seminar on what toxins are doing to ground and surface waters.
At the same time, property owners have to take responsibility for products they allow to be used, Mr. Colligan said.
There are recommendations that have already been completed by members of the WAC, including opening talks with other water system operators, including the West Neck Water District and the Heights and Suffolk County Water Authority. The aim is not to bring in Suffolk County Water Authority as a provider, or to take over other systems, but to learn from their experiences and implement the infrastructure that could ensure potable water to all areas of the Island, regardless of seasonality.
Among some of the major recommendations are:
• Hiring a project manager
• Developing a financial model, including identifying funding sources
• Forming a water district for much of the Island, or possibly an Island-wide water district
• Creating an integrated public water/wastewater district to be incorporated into the 2021 Comprehensive Plan
• Creating a centralized wastewater treatment plan to treat effluent from municipal buildings in the Center — a project extensively studied but not implemented
• Developing a low- or no-interest loan program to encourage installation of nitrogen-reducing I/A (Innovative/Alternative) septic systems along with committing a substantial part of Community Preservation Fund revenues dedicated to water quality improvements while leveraging grant money from county and state sources
• Modifying the town code as needed to implement the plan
• Requiring installation of I/A septic systems on newly constructed homes, something that could be done shortly by new Suffolk County regulations
• Codifying water restrictions to be applied during drought conditions, eliminating the need for the Town Board to act each time certain conditions occur
• Identifying high volume water users to target future needs for education and move to use remote reading capabilities on all new construction with more than 6,000 square feet of living space
• Developing a plan for removing underground fuel oil tanks.