Two areas of Shelter Island served by the Suffolk County Water Authority — the West Neck district and Dering Harbor — are under a stage one water emergency that applies to most areas on the North and South Forks.
At issue isn’t the supply of water but its delivery system at critical hours between midnight and 7 a.m., Town Engineer Joe Finora told the Town Board at its Aug. 9 work session. The Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA) is raising its level to assure water will be available if it’s needed to fight fires or handle other emergencies.
The restrictions remain voluntary.
“This is all about water infrastructure, our tanks and pumping capability being pushed to the limit pretty much every morning due to too many people setting their irrigation systems to activate in the early morning hours,” said Tim Motz, a spokesperson for the SCWA.
On the rest of Shelter Island, there has been an appeal to people to voluntarily restrict irrigation at a time when hot weather has resulted in abnormally dry conditions. There was a plan to disallow use of irrigation systems altogether but instead, previous Town Boards took action to require that cisterns are filled with rain water and/or trucked in water.
Mr. Finora said there has been an “unprecedented call for water” in early morning hours.
The request to stop irrigation from midnight to 7 a.m. came a little more than a week after the SCWA asked customers to refrain from watering between the hours of 3 and 7 a.m.; to water on only odd or even days; and to consider using a smart sprinkler control to properly manage lawn watering.
This is the first time since July 2016 that a Stage 1 emergency has been declared and a Stage 2 emergency has never been issued.
“If we did, it would be a call for the immediate cessation of lawn watering,” the SCWA spokesman said.
The Shelter Island Town Board hasn’t yet adopted a plan for drought condition responses, but members expressed a desire to cooperate with neighboring communities now and to look ahead and do everything possible to encourage water conservation at this time.
At a time when water is critical, using water trucked to the Island from other communities to fill swimming pools or cisterns is wrong Supervisor Gerry Siller said.
Councilman Jim Colligan encouraged Islanders to be proactive, not reactive to conditions.
The Town tracks its own water supply through data collected at test wells by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Until recent, monthly data was provided. The USGS has already stepped up its ability to track water levels in a few test wells using technology to provide ongoing data. It is pushing forward with the technology that will eventually enable Shelter Island to have live data from all of its test wells, Mr. Finora said.
The engineer stressed all efforts are voluntary right now. Were they to be stepped up to a level where water restrictions became mandatory, violations could result in a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to five days for each instance.
According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, 88.7% of Suffolk County is experiencing abnormally dry conditions.