While groundwater is plentiful under much of Long Island, some of the most fragile parts of the aquifer are on the East End, where they sit underneath narrow spits of land and are susceptible to being overdrawn.

The Suffolk County Water Authority has long been aware of this issue, and has had a plan on the shelf for quite some time to extend a water main from Flanders, underneath one of the most stable parts of Long Island’s aquifer, to a pumping station at Laurel Lake in Laurel.

“We have several small drinking water wells on the town line where there have been issues with quantity and quality. The aquifer here is very fragile and we’re cognizant of that,” Suffolk County Water Authority CEO Jeff Szabo told the Southold Town Board at its Nov. 16 work session. “We’ve been looking for a long-term solution, and now we have an opportunity that’s unique, historic and could be beneficial to Southold in the long term.”

The Water Authority was asking Southold Town to sign on to an intermunicipal application for a $27 million grant from New York State, which would be used to bring a 24-inch water main eight miles from Flanders to Laurel. There was one catch — they needed the town to sign on in time to submit the grant application to the state’s rolling annual allotment for water infrastructure projects by the deadline the following Monday, Nov. 22. Grants are slated to be awarded in the spring of 2022.

Mr. Szabo said the main would tie in to an existing main at Route 24 and Route 105 in Flanders, after which it would be laid, using directional drilling, under the Peconic River, through Indian Island County Park and then down Hubbard Avenue and Peconic Bay Boulevard, after which it would travel north in Laurel to be connected at Laurel Lake, where the Water Authority has recently build a two million gallon reservoir.

“On summer days, that reservoir goes down quite a bit,” said Water Authority Deputy Chief Executive Officer for Operations Joe Pokorney. He added that the town has 15 pumping stations and 61 existing wells in Southold Town, all of which are very inefficient compared with wells in the Central Pine Barrens.

For example, a well in the Pine Barrens can produce about 1,500 gallons per minute, he said, compared with about 200 gallons per minute for wells in Southold.

“It’s less expensive water, and the water that you bring in will recharge the aquifer here,” he said. “It will be very efficient recharge, because it goes directly into septic systems.”

“We have something similar in Montauk that goes out from Amagansett, he said. The Montauk Peninsula is more fragile than the North Fork.”

Board members did express some reservations about how residents along Peconic Bay Boulevard may react to the construction, though the route will be primarily in neighboring Riverhead Town.

“You’re asking us permission to dig up roads that aren’t in Southold Town?” asked Town Supervisor Scott Russell. “There will be some impact there. We need to get word out to the public.”

Mr. Szabo added that the Water Authority still plans to go ahead with the project even if it doesn’t get grant funding from the state.

The town board unanimously approved the grant application agreement at its regular meeting Nov. 16.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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