When it comes to water conservation, it’s time to start thinking about ways to save.
That was the message out of a public forum at Southold Town Hall Tuesday night, where representatives from the Suffolk County Water Authority, Legislator Al Krupski, and members of the Town Board all spoke about the importance of keeping the North Fork’s freshwater supplies safe.
More than two dozen people attended the meeting, where Tyrand Fuller, lead hydrogeologist for the Suffolk County Water Authority, explained why the North Fork should be especially concerned.
The water authority oversees the distribution of water from local aquifers to residents and businesses not on private well systems.
Unlike other parts of Long Island, where freshwater aquifers extend deeper underground, the North Fork has a series of freshwater “bubbles” that float closer to the surface. Since freshwater is less dense, it stays separated from the saltwater below, Mr. Fuller said.
But this setup makes the situation precarious, he added. If too much water is drawn from the aquifer, the bubble could shrink and saltwater could begin to seep into the 131 Suffolk County Water Authority wells across the North Fork, as well as private water wells.
“This, by far, is one of the most sensitive areas on the island,” he said.
The average homeowner in Suffolk County uses about 160,000 gallons of water each year, Mr. Fuller said. But some water users, mainly businesses and large residential complexes, can use millions of gallons a year, he added.
Mr. Fuller suggested several ways in which residents can reduce their water usage:
• Check your sprinklers: Instead of having your system turn on in the early morning hours, set your automatic sprinklers to go off between 9 p.m. and midnight. That will reduce the maximum load on the water authority. You can also install rain shut-off devices and sensors to prevent automated systems from turning on when they don’t need to.
• Aerate your faucet: A WaterSense labeled aerator can increase a faucet’s efficiency without sacrificing performance, making it a cost-effective way to save more than 2,000 gallons a year on average.
• Odd-even irrigation: A simple change is to irrigate your lawn based on your house number. If your house number ends in an even number, only water your lawn on even days of the month. Same goes for odd numbers. This is also healthier for your lawn, as it will encourage root growth, Mr. Fuller said.
The Suffolk County Water Authority is offering up to $50 in credits to cover costs of water-efficiency tools like new shower heads, faucets or rain sensors, Mr. Fuller said. The efficiency upgrades also lead to “large savings” on residents’ water bills, he added.
Mr. Fuller said the water authority is planning to install a 2-million gallon storage tank at its property in Laurel Lake, which he said will remain at ground level and won’t be visible from outside the property. The water authority is also in discussions to add another storage tank in Cutchogue.
Several members of the audience asked whether the water authority could regulate and penalize users who waste water; while Mr. Fuller said the water authority had looked into setting a fee for overuse, he admitted that the authority lacks the authorization to regulate its users. That would have to come from legislators on the state level, he said.
Mr. Fuller said the water authority was trying to work with local farmers — most of whom operate on closed private well systems — to determine how much they’re using the aquifer. Representatives from the water authority said it’s not intended as a “competition” over water, but rather to get a better understanding of how much the public resource is being used.
“We need to work together,” Mr. Fuller said.
Mr. Krupski said a recent public hearing about water quality lasted hours, proving the importance of the issue. At the meeting Tuesday, he said he’ll seek to bring a similar public hearing to the East End, so local residents can also have their say.
Mr. Krupski credited a 2005 town wetlands law with helping to recapture some runoff on the North Fork and return it to the aquifer; a later 2008 law expanding a drainage code townwide was also key, he added.
“Everyone’s been focusing on this for years,” Mr. Krupski said.
Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the town has been considering adopting restrictions on water usage, saying it was important to protect the freshwater supplies below ground.
“We view it as a public resource,” he said.
The water authority already held a similar forum in Southampton last month and plans to keep up the discussion in the years to come, according to CEO Jeffrey Szabo.
“This isn’t a meeting that happens once,” he said. “This is an important dialogue.”
Photo caption: Tyrand Fuller, lead hydrogeologist for the Suffolk County Water Authority, holds up a faucet aerator and shower head that reduces water use at a meeting at Southold Town Hall.