The narrow spit of the North Fork contains some of the most fragile sections of Long Island’s aquifer, and Southold Town is now working to ramp up efforts to protect this vital resource.
After a new report outlining water quality and quantity concerns was released this summer by the Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection in the midst of an island-wide drought alert, Southold Town Councilman Bob Ghosio has taken the lead in working on water issues.
Mr. Ghosio recommended at the Southold Town Board’s Dec. 6 work session that the town form a Water Quality and Water Conservation Committee, and that the board work with non-profit Peconic Green Growth on developing a plan to protect Southold’s water supply.
Peconic Green Growth Executive Director Glynis Berry outlined a two-phase study that she’d like to conduct focusing on water quality and quantity goals, with the intent that the information gathered through the study could be used by the town to apply for water protection grants that are in the works from other agencies.
The study would cost the town $24,000.
“If we can get ahead of this before other towns, we can get ahead on funding for grants that are going to be developing in the future,” said Mr. Ghosio, who suggested the town use Community Preservation Fund money that will soon be available for water quality projects to fund the study.
“I don’t think its very expensive, and it’s a great way of easing into this,” he said. “Glynis already has the background and the expertise to make this happen.”
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he believes the town could find the money to fund the $12,000 needed for first phase of the study, on water quantity issues, without dipping into the CPF fund.
Ms. Berry said a major factor in water quantity issues on the North Fork is automatic sprinkler systems, which draw down Suffolk County Water Authority and private wells in the early morning hours.
She added that, because of sea level rise due to climate change, Southold is the most vulnerable place on Long Island to issues like saltwater intrusion into drinking water wells. The North Fork’s aquifer also contributes the same amount of nitrogen to the Peconic Estuary as the South Fork, despite the fact that the South Fork comprises a much larger land area.
Ms. Berry said part of the difficulty with quantifying the North Fork’s water use is that many people here still use private wells, where the flow is not monitored in the same way it is with the public water supply.
She proposed to use Suffolk County Water Authority data to estimate water flow based on land use, and then to extrapolate from there the amount of water used in private wells based on land use patterns throughout Southold, a Geographic Information Systems-intensive analysis.
“We feel that if we can do the first phase quickly, it would put us in a situation to start applying for incentives and grants,” she said.
Board members enthusiastically supported the creation of the Water Quality and Water Conservation Committee, but some were wary about spending money right away on the study.
“We need to set a budget, set up a committee and see where the committee wants to go,” said Councilman Jim Dinizio. “It could be a two-month thing. We need to see what we have the ability to do with the laws.”
Councilman Bill Ruland agreed that the finances need to be put in order.
“We need to immediately sit down with the comptroller and discuss how we would put a mechanism in place to move forward,” said Councilman Bill Ruland. “There will be expenses, and once you start, I don’t see that there’s any going back.”
“As responsible adults, we should be thinking about how this is going to affect our grandchildren,” he added. “This is not an overnight fix, that I know. If you can make substantive change over time, it yields a tremendous benefit.”
Mr. Ghosio said he’s heard some resistance from people he’s talked to about water conservation because “people do not want to be told what to do with that which we purchase.”
“They say ‘how much I use is nobody’s business as long as I can pay for it,'” he said. “But the problem here is, at least in my mind, that here we are, with the aquifer that we have, which is truly owned by the people. Everybody.”
Ms. Berry said that she also plans to take social equity issues into account in her study, based on the U.S. EPA recommendation that households dedicate no more than 2 percent of their income to water supply and wastewater treatment.
Mr. Ruland said irrigation companies have “a new gizmo, and not an expensive gizmo,” you can put in when you install a system that measures soil moisture and only waters when a lawn needs water.
Mr. Dinizio said he doesn’t think ideas like odd-even watering schedules, based on house numbers, work very well in rural areas like Southold, where house numbers often don’t follow a suburban pattern.
“We’re gonna suck the ground dry. We’re going to be in salt water at some point, no matter what we do,” he said. “Farmers know when they have to irrigate. They don’t waste water. They know what it’s all about.”
He added that early morning irrigation is also a public safety threat, causing well pressure to drop to a level that makes firefighting ineffective.
“If you have a big fire, you’re not going to have enough water,” he said.