Groundbreaking county water main extension project will link Southold Town to Central Pine Barrens aquifer

On Thursday morning in Laurel, the Suffolk County Water Authority broke ground on the largest water main extension project in its history — a $35 million effort to build an eight mile pipeline linking the Pine Barrens aquifer to Southold Town.

“One of the biggest challenges [Southold] has as a town is natural resource management,” Town Supervisor Scott Russell said at the groundbreaking, noting that the project would allow Southold to “take [the Pine Barrens] water resource and move it from areas where you have plenty, to areas where we don’t have as much.”

Mr. Russell called the project a “huge undertaking,” but said it would reduce the risk of saltwater intrusion, ensure clean water access for the Southold community and replenish the ground water in the North Fork’s aquifer.

“I want to thank Suffolk County Water Authority for that,” he said.

SCWA chairman Patrick Halpin said that the pipeline — expected to be completed by 2030 — “will provide a safe and robust supply of drinking water forever.”

The groundbreaking took place on Laurel Lane near Peconic Bay Boulevard in Laurel, where the project’s first pipe was laid. The transmission line will carry groundwater from Flanders to the Laurel Lake pump station, a move aimed at easing the stress on Southold Town’s existing wells.

During the summer of 2022, the SCWA declared a Stage 1 water emergency, in which residential and business customers in Southold, Shelter Island and other municipalities were asked to stop irrigating their lawns between midnight and 7 a.m.  A Stage 2 water emergency, which has never been declared according to the spokesperson, would seek to cease all lawn irrigation activities. 

The water imported into the North Fork from the pine barrens will allow the SCWA to reduce reliance on wells impacted by salt-water intrusion. The project is also expected to reduce future capital outlays for the construction of new well fields in the area.

SCWA Chairman Patrick Halpin was on hand for the groundbreaking, as was SCWA’s Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Szabo, Deputy CEO for Operations Joseph Pokorny, SCWA lead hydrogeologist and director of strategic initiatives Ty Fuller, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Region 1 Assistant Regional Director Robert Calarco and Judy Jakobsen, executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Commission.

“It is a delicate area on the North Fork,” Mr. Fuller said. “We have a shallow freshwater setting [and] we have wells that are competing with farm wells and everything else.”

He said that shallow water wells on the North Fork leave the region in a precarious position that he described as “unsustainable.”

The county water authority first presented their plan for the new water main to the Southhold Town Board in November, 2022 and first applied for grants for the project in December.

Mr. Russell called on the residents of Southold to do their part in protecting this “cherished resource,” by practicing sound water use and reducing water use whenever possible.

“We have to match their commitment and we have to do everything we can as a community to say thank you very much for the resource, now we’re going to help you protect it.”