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Residents report tankers using Southold fire hydrants despite Suffolk County Water Authority ban

Concerns over water consumption have prompted new complaints of water tanker trucks using hydrants within Southold Town to fill up.

Over the past month, town officials have received several reports from residents who have seen trucks taking water from hydrants throughout the town. Drivers, when questioned, told residents they had permits from the Suffolk County Water Authority to do so.

“They’re definitely not supposed to be doing that,” town attorney Bill Duffy said during a Town Board work session Tuesday. Mr. Duffy cited a resolution adopted by the utility in 2018 that prohibited tanker trucks between 3,000 and 8,000 gallons from using SCWA hydrants in Southold to fill up — including companies with permits to use SCWA hydrants elsewhere.

According to Tim Hopkins, chief legal officer for the water authority, the resolution was enacted in response to concerns about water availability. “The amount of water available is limited,” Mr. Hopkins said in an interview Tuesday. 

Anne Murray, president of the East Marion Community Association, said she’s seen trucks frequently using a hydrant on Rocky Point Road and has been fielding complaints from her neighbors in recent weeks.

“People are outraged about it because our aquifer is very delicate,” Ms. Murray said. “They should be trying to save water instead of selling it, especially to people who are going to take it somewhere else.”

Glynis Berry, executive director of Peconic Green Growth, played an instrumental role in advocating for the hydrant ban.

Her 2016 study of water use across the North Fork showed Southold’s water use was unsustainable and she said Tuesday that the numbers have worsened as the growing population puts additional stress on the water table.

Ms. Berry and others fought for the ban in response to tanker trucks filling up in Greenport and transporting the water to Shelter Island to fill swimming pools. Shelter Island town code mandates that pools be filled and refilled from an off-island water supply.

“We have the same problem they do,” Ms. Berry said with regard to water consumption. “We’re really fragile. If we pump too much, we’ll get saltwater intrusion — and then you’ve destroyed it. It’s not just quantity, it’s quality.”

Town officials said Tuesday that they are continuing to monitor the situation and asking residents to contact code enforcement if they see a violation.

According to Supervisor Scott Russell, the town sent photos it had received of such incidents to the water authority to take action. “They were contacting the contractors with a cease and desist order,” Mr. Russell said. “I am grateful for the swift action they are taking to stop it from happening again.”

Mr. Hopkins encourages Southold residents to take photos if they see a large tanker truck using a hydrant and send them to the water authority with a date, time and location.

“If it’s a repeat offender, we will revoke their permit and they won’t be able to obtain water at any of our hydrants anywhere,” he said, noting that two companies observed taking water in recent weeks have already been contacted.

“The companies know, but maybe drivers take liberties or may not be fully informed,” Mr. Hopkins said. “They don’t want to lose all their privileges at all hydrants, which would be very difficult for them.”