Members of the Gardiner’s Bay Country Club (GBCC) see their proposal to double water usage as a “win-win” for them, their neighbors and the rest of the Island. In anticipation of filing an application with the New York State Department of Environment Conservation (DEC), club Irrigation Committee members began meetings with some Town officials, club neighbors and environmental groups to present their ideas.
GBCC wants to increase its use of 6 million gallons of water a year to 12.1 million gallons to provide the additional 6 million gallons for its golf course, and 100,000 gallons for clubhouse use.
It’s a proposed two-stage process estimated to cost $3.5 million, with the initial replacement of an aged irrigation system by the fall of 2023. That must happen regardless of whether GBCC receives approval for increased water use, said Jay Card Jr., the club member who drafted the report on the proposal.
An evaluation of the club’s existing irrigation system by Paul Roche of North Carolina’s Golf Water rated it as D minus, resulting in making it the “number one priority,” Mr. Card said.
The existing system is inefficient, wasting water while the new system will allow for a more precise water application, according to a Power Point presentation. It’s expected to increase efficiency by 15% with individually controlled irrigation heads that can be controlled remotely and link to soil moisture sensors tied into the club’s environmental weather station.
Although no increased water use would occur until 2024 if permitted, questions have arisen about the timing of the proposal.
The Suffolk County Water Authority that manages systems in Dering Harbor and the West Neck Water District has informed customers of a Stage 1 water emergency, asking them not to irrigate between midnight and 7 a.m. and to avoid water use where possible.
The aim in this dry summer is to ensure there is sufficient water to fight fires and meet other critical needs.
A “drought watch” has been triggered by the State Drought Index, which reflects precipitation levels, reservoir and lake levels, stream flow and groundwater levels. According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, 88.7% of Suffolk County is currently classified as “abnormally dry.”
Nearby neighbors from the Hay Beach Property Owners Association have concerns, according to that group’s president, Patrick Clifford. “Many of our members are also members of the club and we want to be supportive of the club where possible,” he said, noting the organization hasn’t expressed opposition to the plan. “But to protect our fragile aquifer, we need to make sure that the additional 6.1 million gallons of water it is requesting does not pose an unreasonable risk to the drinking water in our community and beyond. We are deeply concerned not only for Hay Beach, but the entire Island.”
In 1996, the Hay Beach Association expressed concerns to the Town Board after the DEC found that the additional 11 million gallons of groundwater GBCC requested would cause large scale salt water intrusion into individual wells belonging to area residents.
Not the case, Mr. Card said. The GBCC hired WSP, a company based in New York City that takes on projects around the world. Its hydrology study indicates the aquifer starts at 40 feet below the surface and the freshwater lens is 88 feet thick.
That results in the saltwater interface at 128 feet. At 12 million gallons, WSP reported GBCC’s water use would dip about one foot into the aquifer.
Despite the study, Mr. Clifford said his organization sees “an urgent need” for the Town to hire an independent expert to weigh in on the Club’s report. The DEC would be expected to reach out to the Town Board for its recommendation before acting on the application.
Several months ago, Mr. Card said GBCC representatives met with Supervisor Gerry Siller, Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams and Town Engineer Joe Finora.
He said he was surprised to hear Mr. Siller suggest GBCC explore watering the course using treated wastewater from the Shelter Island Heights plant. That’s in line with a fertigation project still being explored with the Shelter Island Country Club at Goat Hill.
Mr. Finora confirmed it would be preferable to use treated wastewater at GBCC to sourcing groundwater. “This suggestion was made in concept only, has not been shared with the Heights and to my knowledge has not been further considered,” Mr. Finora added.
With regard to the status of the Goat Hill fertigation project, he said the Town and the Heights are “still at a crossroads,” given the need for analysis of whether the proximity of public supply wells to the proposed re-use area would pose a problem.
“We are exploring options to proceed with subsequent analysis. However, the Town has not allocated any additional funding to advance this project,” Mr. Finora said.
As for GBCC, Mr. Card said it’s not practical given the distance between the Heights plant and the country club. There are two bridges and numerous wells along that route, he said.
CONSERVATIONISTS WEIGH IN
The Town’s Water Advisory Committee (WAC) has received a briefing from WAC Chairman Peter Grand who met with Mr. Card. But that was preliminary, Mr. Grand told his committee. A standing invitation has been issued and will be renewed to GBCC representatives, Mr. Grand said.
Bob DeLuca, President of the Group for the East End, the nonprofit conservation organization, said he met with club representatives several months ago to discuss thoughts and concerns about the project, but at the time, the plan was in its infancy. “We did not review the proposal for the purpose of endorsement or objection, but rather the purpose of offering early technical guidance ahead of what we assume will be a formal report and application process should they proceed,” Mr. DeLuca said. “We appreciated being asked to share our thoughts early on,” he said.
Since then, GBCC officials have embraced a number of suggestions that came from the Group for the East End.
There are “some tangible benefits to upgrading outdated and physically deteriorating irrigation systems to improve operational efficiency and water conservation measures,” Mr. DeLuca said.
The nonprofit suggested a more broadly distributed location for several irrigation wells and told the GBCC team to prioritize water conservation benefits that updated technology can provide in terms of irrigation hardware and irrigation timing and fertilization software.
He also said a nitrogen-reducing I/A septic system should be installed, and that is in the Club plan. Another suggestion was to update the pump test data to more accurately demonstrate a sustainable future irrigation yield, Mr. DeLuca said.
Improved drainage and storm water runoff controls were another aspect suggested by the nonprofit, which have been incorporated into the club’s plan.
Another mitigating factor to the proposal would be installation of a storage vault to provide quick applications of water to the course from a new pump station.