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For some, hydrant use brings trouble

For one Southold business owner, filling up his truck’s small water tank at hydrants controlled by the Suffolk County Water Authority has become very challenging in recent weeks.

His company purchases permits from the Water Authority to use the hydrants and displays them prominently on his truck. While everything he’s doing is legal, he frequently faces abuse when he fills up his tank.

“My company accesses fire hydrants,” the business owner said in an email. He asked not to be identified. “The business spends several thousand dollars per year for permits to access these hydrants and all trucks are inspected by the Suffolk County Water Authority. 

“I have personally been photographed, videotaped, yelled at and insulted, threatened with law enforcement action and told I am not allowed to fill at a hydrant even though I attempt to point out the permit posted on the side of the truck …

“These interactions are borderline harassment and lead to false accusations,” he wrote.

In an interview, Joseph Pokorny, the water authority’s deputy chief executive officer for operations, acknowledged there has been confusion about who is allowed to draw water from the authority’s wells. 

He said this has led to criticism of the practice by residents in Southold who live near hydrants and believe their groundwater is being “stolen.”

“Some people thought a large truck was being filled in Southold and the driver was going back to Riverhead to fill a swimming pool,” he said.

Mr. Pokorny said swimming pool and landscaping companies pay upwards of $4,000 for a permit to draw water from authority hydrants. He said the larger water tankers used in Southold by pool companies — as long as they have permits — can use only a single authority-owned hydrant, on Ackerly Pond Road. 

And, he said, those larger tankers can only distribute that water within Southold Town.

Smaller tanks such as those used by landscapers can fill up at any water authority hydrants in the town. These businesses still need the permit. And, as of current water authority policy, those smaller tanks can distribute water in and outside the town.

Southold Town attorney Bill Duffy also acknowledged there has been confusion on this issue. “We did have an issue with the larger trucks filling up in Southold and then using that water to fill pools on Shelter Island and the South Fork,” he wrote in an email.

He said, “After complaints from the Town as well as residents, SCWA did put in place a rule that the larger trucks could only use the water they take for properties in Southold. There may be confusion among the residents who think they are not allowed to fill up in Southold at all; there might also be confusion regarding the different truck sizes.”

Anne Murray, president of the East Marion Community Association, said she has heard a number of complaints from her neighbors about trucks using a hydrant on Rocky Point Road. 

She acknowledged that those trucks, if they have permits, might be allowed to use the hydrant.

“There is a great deal of confusion on this issue,” she said. “And this is a very big issue and a real problem. In East Marion our water table is very shallow so the concern is that too much water is being taken out. There needs to be a strict policy on a serious problem that needs a long-term solution.”