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As drought watch continues, town focuses on water conservation

12/06/2016 1:39 PM |

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Southold Town is looking to step up its water conservation efforts and possibly create a committee specialized in that area. 

The North Fork has been noted as one of the most sensitive areas on the island and the state Department of Environmental Conservation has the entire state under a drought watch. In July, the Town Board sought new water conservation guidelines on a suggestion from Councilman Robert Ghosio and since then has asked Glynis Berry of Peconic Green Growth to come up with some conclusions about water usage on the North Fork and give an idea where plans could go.

“It’s evident that when we think about this we automatically think of residential use, and residents can make a difference, but it’s beyond that,” Mr. Ghosio said. “You’ve got industry, business, farms and schools and hospitals, all these other things that are large users of water and create a lot of wastewater as well.”

The region gets its water from freshwater aquifers. The main concern comes in the early hours of the morning when irrigation systems start up and can put a strain on water pressure in the summer and on weekends, Ms. Berry said. Salt water intrusion could also be an effect of drawing too much water from the aquifer and it is difficult to reverse, she said.

“The aquifer we have is truly owned by the people, everybody, and how we use that and how it can be detrimental to each other is an important issue to me,” Mr. Ghosio said.

Ms. Berry presented three phases on what the town could do, starting with mapping conditions, collecting data on land use and water use, and identifying the strategies to reduce water use, then educating the public. 

The Town Board showed interest in setting up water conservation and quality protection committee, but must consider how to fund any projects. 

Councilman William Ruland said education on the matter must be ongoing in order to have an impact.

“What we do is going to impact the next generation and the generations after that because this is not an overnight fix,” he said. He said the North Fork is “spoiled” in that it does not regularly have to consider its water usage as carefully as regions of the state where wells can be over-pumped.

The plan Ms. Berry proposed would come at a cost to the town should it be adopted, at about $12,000 for its first phase. If the town gets a plan out earlier than other municipalities, it would give Southold an advantage in applying for any available grants to fund it, Mr. Ghosio said.

Mr. Ghosio noted that part of the town’s Community Preservation Fund can be used for water quality or water conservation projects and could be a possible source considering the town’s “tight budget” this year.

“The CPF for the water conservation program should be a last resort,” Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said. “$12,000 isn’t a lot for the general allocations for the town to absorb.”

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