Environmental group releases report on the cost of water here

08/21/2019 6:00 AM |

Living on Long Island, it can sometimes be easy to grow frustrated with taxes and fees, but a recent study shows that Riverhead charges less than most other towns for at least one utility: water. 

The Riverhead Water District was ranked No. 10 on a list of Long Island’s least expensive water districts and third among districts in Suffolk County, according to analysis from Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Read the report

The average annual cost of water for a Riverhead resident is $331, the environmental advocacy group reported. That’s about $40 less per year, for example, than residents of nearby Hampton Bays pay.

The CCE study compared the cost of water in the 48 water districts throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. Annual estimates were based on the average monthly water usage for a family of four in the U.S. — approximately 10,000 gallons, executive director Adrienne Esposito said.

Ms. Esposito said many water districts, including Riverhead, separate the costs of infrastructure and water treatment on taxpayer’s bills. Both contribute to the overall cost of water, she said.

Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the community has been proactive in conserving water during summer months, the peak usage season for the water district.

According to the Riverhead Water District, it operates all 17 wells during peak season and only uses four during the winter period. This increase in summer months can be attributed to lawn irrigation systems, Ms. Jens-Smith said.

“If everybody turns their sprinkler on Monday at 3 o’clock in the morning, it drains the wells down, and because it’s activated by pressure, it takes a while for the wells to build back up over the next 24 hours,” she said. “By some people not irrigating during the summer, or some people irrigating during off-times, it helps the tanks stay level and makes them the most efficient.”

Riverhead Town recently approved a roughly $23 million capital improvement plan to maintain and improve water infrastructure over the next 10 years, Ms. Jens-Smith said.

The first phase of the improvement plan has been approved by the Town Board. As part of the plan, the town will install a two-million-gallon storage tank and booster pump station at a plant on Tuthill’s Lane; emergency generators at a plant on Pulaski Street; and a new generator set at a plant on Edwards Avenue. The projects will cost roughly $5.7 million, according to the district.

The CCE study also analyzed costs for residents who receive water through the Suffolk County Water Authority, which includes some residents of Southold Town.

The study shows SCWA serves over 1 million residents across Long Island, for whom the average cost of water is $355 annually.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said in an email that SCWA establishes the water rates, which cannot be modified by the town. He noted that many homes in Southold don’t have public water and the town has few large commercial, water-dependent consumers like in other locations.

Historically, Mr. Russell said, Southold Town has focused on preserving land in water protection areas, like properties surrounding Laurel Lake. This approach will continue to be a “top priority,” he said, adding that it’s addressed in the Southold Town Comprehensive Plan, which is nearing completion.

In the report, CCE refers to Greenport Village as a “waterless water district,” meaning the village purchases water from an outside source — in this case, the Suffolk County Water Authority — and then distributes it to residents. The result is a higher cost for Greenport residents than for Southold residents who use public water: Greenport residents pay $449.34 annually for water, according to the data.

Ms. Esposito said she’d like to see Greenport and other waterless and small water districts merge with neighboring districts to reduce costs and streamline water management.

She suggested that all three municipalities work to build awareness of the importance of water conservation.

“It really needs to be a bigger public education effort for conservation on the North Fork and in Riverhead,” she said. “Just because it’s inexpensive doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. It’s a gift that’s inexpensive, but it’s a gift that we need to treasure.”

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