Truce possible in battle over water in Calverton

A truce may be in the offing in the turf battle between the Riverhead Water District and the Suffolk County Water Authority. And it’s a deal that could save town taxpayers upwards of $3 million.

The town and SCWA have discussed an arrangement that would result in SCWA’s backing off its claim that it, not the town water district, should supply water to the Enterprise Park at Calverton, or EPCAL, and possibly other areas of the town as well, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter disclosed at a public Town Board work session last week.

According to the potential cooperative agreement, discussed in Town Hall last Thursday, SCWA would back off its claim to supplying EPCAL. Riverhead would provide SCWA with water at the Southold Town line, to relieve SCWA water shortages in parts of Southold; and SCWA would provide Riverhead with water at the Southampton and Brookhaven town lines, to relieve shortages in nearby parts of Riverhead.

In addition, under the proposed arrangement, Riverhead and SCWA would share the cost of building a new well off Northville Turnpike that could supply 1,000 gallons per minute at the Southold interconnect. SCWA would supply 1,500 gallons per minute at the Route 25 border with Brookhaven and Riverhead, and SCWA would supply 2,000 gallons per minute at Route 105 that would be piped under the Peconic River from Southampton Town and which could supply water to residents from Jamesport to Southold Town.

Mr. Walter said the proposed arrangement would benefit Riverhead financially because it would provide the town with a backup water supply from SCWA, which could eliminate or at least postpone the need for the town to drill an additional well it had been planning to build that could cost as much as $3 million.

“The benefit is not having to spend $2 million to $3 million today,” said Dennis Kelleher of H2M Group, a consulting engineer to Riverhead’s water district.

The chief executive officer of SCWA, Jeff Szabo, said on Friday it was premature to discuss specifics because the two sides were still in negotiations.

“We believe in trying to work out a compromise,” he said. “We want to do the best thing for the customers and the residents, and if we can arrange an agreement that’s beneficial to everyone, that’s good for everyone.”

Earlier this year, SCWA claimed that EPCAL was part of its distribution system, and it took its case to a state Department of Environmental Conservation administrative law judge, opposing the Riverhead Water District’s proposal to expand its territory into EPCAL.

In 2008, SCWA made an offer to buy the town water district for $12 million, but town officials rejected it. The town water district’s rates are lower than SCWA’s, but town water district customers also pay property taxes to the water district.

SCWA has maintained that areas in Riverhead Town that are not part of the town water district should fall under SCWA’s jurisdiction. It has also said the town lacks sufficient capacity to serve its existing coverage area.

Earlier this year, Mr. Walter called SCWA “a 900-pound gorilla trying to force its way into Riverhead and Southold.” He also said the town could lose control of development issues at EPCAL if SCWA were to handle its water supply.

But on Thursday he was advocating working with SCWA.

“My opinion is that we should move forward with discussions with SCWA,” Mr. Walter said. “I don’t see a downside to it, especially if the crux of the agreement is that they recognize our jurisdictional boundaries.”

He said SCWA needs the town’s help in supplying water to Southold Town, and Riverhead needs SCWA’s help in supplying water in certain parts of the town.

This summer’s high temperatures have led to record water usage, according to H2M’s Mr. Kelleher. The Riverhead water district, on average, uses 6 million gallons per day. But in June of this year, it averaged 13.9 million gallons per day, or 417 million gallons for the month, and in July it used 16.5 million gallons per day, or 512 million gallons for the month. A year ago, the water district pumped 205 million gallons in June and 319 million gallons in July, Mr. Kelleher said.

The water district also topped its previous peak day demand of 20.5 million gallons per day five times this year, with the new record set on July 6 at 22.55 million gallons per day.

The chief culprit is irrigation during prolonged dry spells. Water usage dropped to 11 million gallons per day on July 14, the day after a heavy rainfall, Mr. Kelleher said.

The town has increased its pumping capacity by 4.5 million gallons per day this year with the construction of two new wells and a new interconnection with SCWA at Dogwood Drive in Wading River, he said. Two, and possibly three, new plants are being considered for 2011, he said.

The Town Board on Thursday informally agreed to allow Mr. Kelleher to continue discussing the cooperative arrangement with SCWA, although board members expressed concerns about the proposed agreement.

“I just don’t want them to get a foothold in Riverhead,” said Councilman John Dunleavy.

“I just want to make sure we’re getting the best deal we can,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said.

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