Pictured Above: SCWA officials Patrick Halpin (secong from right) and Joe Pokorny (right) discuss the new water main.

The Suffolk County Water Authority held a ceremonial laying of the first pipe of the longest water main extension project in its history in Laurel on March 23, a $35 million, eight-mile-long pipeline designed to bring water from the Central Pine Barrens to the North Fork.

When Water Authority Director of Strategic Initiatives Ty Fuller first began working as a hydrologist for the water company in 1999, he was surprised to find how shallow and fragile its wells on the North Fork were compared with wells in the pine barrens, which sits atop the main mass of Long Island’s fresh drinking water.

“It’s an area with isolated, shallow bubbles of fresh water. That concerned me,” he told reporters gathered at the corner of Peconic Bay Boulevard and Laurel Lane on March 23.
“It’s a precarious situation.”

The Water Authority will lay the 16-inch ductile iron transmission pipe westward down Peconic Bay Boulevard and Hubbard Avenue where it is slated to traverse Indian Island County Park, running through a directional boring hole under the Peconic River before connecting with an existing water main at the northwest corner of Flanders Road and Route 105, said Joe Pokorny, the Water Authority’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer for Operations. 

Mr. Pokorny said workers can install as many as 700 feet of pipe in 20-foot sections each day, and one lane of the road in which they are working will be closed during hours of construction, though it will be covered and people will be able to drive in both lanes at night and when work is not underway.

Getting to work.

The project is currently slated to be completed over several budget years through 2029, though it could move more quickly if the Water Authority receives grant funding, said Water Authority CEO Jeff Szabo at the pipe-laying. The Water Authority recently dedicated $5 million to the project for its 2023-24 fiscal year, which begins in June.

Mr. Pokorny said the main is slated to be solely a transmission line — no one will be able to hook up to receive water along the length of the pipe, which will be placed in an area currently served by the Riverhead Water District. The main will connect on the eastward end to an existing pumping station at Laurel Lake, where the Water Authority has recently build a two million-gallon reservoir.

He added that work was starting at the Southold end of the line while the permitting process was underway at the westward end for the drilling under the river and through Indian Island.

Water Authority Chairman Patrick Halpin said saltwater intrusion is one of the biggest problems facing the existing 61 shallow wells operated by the water company here, especially during times of peak usage in the summer, when the lens of fresh water under the North Fork shrinks and sea water begins to inundate the ground.

“We can’t put any more straws in that aquifer,” he said.

“We watch the chlorides increase throughout the season,” said Mr. Pokorny, who said the existing wells will continue to be maintained and used, but will be heavily augmented by the new water main during months of peak usage. He added that water from the Central Pine Barrens used by customers on the North Fork will make its way back into the aquifer here, helping to recharge this fragile environmental system.

The Water Authority currently has water mains that serve much of the North Fork as far east as East Marion. A proposed extension across the causeway to Orient was stopped about a decade ago by residents who were concerned it would set the stage for more construction and development there.

Mr. Halpin said he hopes one day the water company will serve Orient.

“They have serious problems with nitrates in their private wells there,” he said.

“This is a community, like much of the East End, which is going through a tremendous transition,” said Mr. Halpin of the North Fork.

Between increasing summer droughts and the increased suburbanization of our landscape, bringing with it more commercial and residential lawn irrigation, the Water Authority has been preaching summertime conservation measures for the last few summers. This year the company will be requiring residents throughout its coverage area to adopt odd-even lawn irrigation practices — watering their lawns on odd or even days based on whether their street address is an odd or even number. The water company is also providing credits for customers who install water conservation devices.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell thanked the Water Authority for their commitment to Southold residents, but cautioned that citizens still need to be stewards of this resource.

“We have to do our part to protect it, with sound water use,” he said. “Southold is changing radically, and we have to match their commitment.”

For more information on the Water Authority’s new policies, visit www.scwa.com/water-quality/environment/water-efficiency/ or contact their Water Wise Checkup team at 631.292.6101.  

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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