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Drought status lifted for Shelter Island: Caution still advised for water use

For the first time in 13 months, Shelter Island is finally free from all drought categories.

That’s the good news from Water Advisory Committee member Greg Toner, who has been gathering information from the National Integrated Drought Information System. He made the information public at Monday afternoon’s monthly WAC meeting.

In recent months, the Island was moving in the opposite direction from “guarded” to “moderate drought.” But with recent rains, that has turned around. Nonetheless, Islanders and visitors should remain cautious in their use of water, WAC members said, since this year has been “unusually dry” for months.

Mr. Toner and WAC colleague Ken Pysher think it’s wise to always consider the situation “guarded” when it comes to water use.

That prompted committee members to suggest creation of a time frame for modifying irrigation laws and the concerns on how to enforce tighter restrictions, some of which are already established, but are not enforced.

Silver Beach resident Sean Davy said the law already requires removal of drip irrigation systems, but he sees many people ignoring the requirement. Residents need education on what is expected and enforcement of its regulations, Mr. Davy said.

Enforcement is always a problem, WAC Chairman Peter Grand said. There should be some means of communities taking action without residents becoming vigilantes, he added.

Member Doug Sherrod noted a new neighbor in Silver Beach was using two sprinkler systems in midday and had no knowledge of regulations or best practices for watering. Neighbors filed complaints with the Building Department.

Senior Building Inspector Reed Karen had a talk with the new resident, who readily complied with advice about how and when to water his lawn.

Heights Property Owners Corporation General Manager Stella Lagudis agreed enforcement is a problem, but pushing neighbors to report on neighbors isn’t a viable solution.

Councilwoman BJ Ianfolla, liaison to the WAC, said the Building Department maintains a complaint form on the town website .

WAC member Lisa Shaw, who heads the West Neck Water District Board of Directors, said there are different kinds of drip lines and some might help conserve water. At the same time, she said metering should be used to measure water use with any irrigation system.

Mr. Pysher said he’s concerned about pumped irrigation, which is a problem, drawing water from lower to higher levels. Mr. Grand said it’s especially a problem in summer months when there is more demand for water by a much larger population,

The committee got raw data from the Menantic Creek Keepers, who are in the process of incorporating their organization and monitoring water temperatures and salinity in creek waters. The organization has already contributed $5,000 for the equipment used in monitoring, and have also raised money through a yard sale, according to Alice Deupree, who has been a major spokeswoman for the group.

WAC members also heard from Chase Creek resident Christopher Herman about what he thinks is an algal problem in that body of water. He said he is observing a green hue in the water, but has no information about what causes it. He said he has no information on whether there are septic system discharges into the water or other factors that could be contributing to problems. Councilwoman Meg Larsen, also a liaison to the committee, said it would be unlikely wastes are seeping into the water from septic systems, while Mr. Sherrod suggested having the DEC test the water.

On Aug. 31, the WAC will hold another of its public forums at the Shelter Island Library at 5 p.m. with Ms. Ianfolla and Ms. Larsen, two of the three Task Force members of the Comprehensive Plan Group, speaking about the section of the draft proposal dealing with water use.