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$5K donation will help school district manage its water resources

A donation of new irrigation equipment to the Riverhead Central School District will help curb overwatering and reduce water costs.

District and town officials gathered at the high school Wednesday to receive a donation from Peconic Green Growth, an organization that aims to preserve and enhance natural resources through sustainability.

Irrigation sensors and controls will be installed at the high school, middle school and Pulaski Street schools. They’ll each be linked to weather stations and onsite moisture sensors that will help avoid overwatering, according to Peconic Green Growth executive director Glynis Berry.

The nearly $5,000 donation was made possible through grant funding from the Long Island Community Foundation.

“We’re not going to overwater but still give [the district] the wonderful grounds and fields they deserve,” Ms. Berry said Wednesday. Irrigating the athletic fields alone pumps millions of gallons of water in the summer months.

Water conservation is at the heart of Ms. Berry’s mission. “If we want a sustainable future we have to protect our aquifer,” she said.

George Iannaccone, who helped supply the equipment on behalf of Central Turf & Irrigation Supply in Southampton, said the system can also be used to preemptively shut off in case rain is forecasted. 

“You’re going to use a lot less water that way,” Mr. Iannaccone said.

An overwhelming demand for water coupled with a dry season last year highlighted the importance of conservation.

The average Riverhead household consumes 370 gallons per day — above the national median of 240 — and soared to 956 gallons per day during the summer of 2020, officials said.

Ms. Berry said Long Island’s aquifer still hasn’t fully recovered from drought in 2016 and can’t sustain the increased demand, which stresses the infrastructure and worsens the threat of saltwater intrusion and contamination.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who serves as the town’s liaison to the school district, helped foster the partnership between the water district, Peconic Green Growth and the school.

“It is vital that we all work together to conserve this precious resource,” she said Wednesday.

Interim superintendent Christine Tona thanked the organization for the donation and noted that the partnership is a great opportunity for high school students to get involved with environmental advocacy.

“We’re grateful for the donation,” she said. “It will go a long way to making our district more environmentally friendly.”

Heading into the summer, the Riverhead Water district is again calling for town residents to be mindful of their water usage.

Steps residents can take to reduce peak demand include irrigating between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. rather than peak demand hours, which are between 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, water district customers are also asked to water lawns, fill pools and wash cars on days that correspond with their address: odd-numbered addresses on odd-number days and vice versa.

“We don’t want to prohibit people from having lawns and gardens, we just ask that people use our water resources as efficiently as possible,” water district superintendent Frank Mancini said.

On any given summer day, the district pumps five times the amount of water as on a winter day due to outdoor use. “Almost all of that is irrigation,” Mr. Mancini said.

As Peconic Green Growth continues to work to reduce water use, the organization has several moisture sensors available at no cost and is willing to work with any group trying to lower indoor and outdoor use, Ms. Berry said.

To receive an application for a sensor, email [email protected] and for more information, Ms. Berry can be reached at 631-680-9656.