Town’s water conservation plan debated at public hearing

A proposal to establish water conservation measures in Riverhead was met with mixed results during a public hearing at Riverhead Town Hall Tuesday.

Measures include limiting water use during periods of peak demand by instituting odd/even water regulations. Water customers with addresses ending in odd numbers would be able to water lawns, fill pools, wash cars, etc., only on odd-numbered dates. Those with even-numbered addresses could do the same only on even-numbered dates. The proposed law calls for certain restrictions on consumption to begin April 15, at times when peak demand occurs, for all properties serviced by the Riverhead Water District.

Violations of the proposed laws would be punished by fines of $250 for the first offense, $750 for the second offense, and at least $1,500 for third or more offenses, according to the proposal.

“This is a proposed code change that covers things like odd and even watering, running a hose without some way to control it, having a rain sensor, not watering the sidewalks and the ability for us to declare a water emergency,” said Frank Mancini, the town’s water district superintendent.

He said the peak demand is what the town is worried about.

“On Sept. 3, we did break 20 million,” Mr. Mancini said. “We pumped 20,047,000 gallons on one day.The system does really struggle on those days, and it could happen anywhere from May to September.”  

The proposal was met with varying responses Tuesday.

Claudette Bianco of Baiting Hollow asked how the town is contemplating water restrictions, yet still allowing large developments such as warehouses and distribution centers in Calverton, which will increase water use. 

Mr. Mancini said the water district has no role in approving development projects, but noted that those large proposals will have a condition from the water district in which they are asked to pay to develop the supplier storage that they need for the project. 

Robert Skinner of Jamesport said he feels there needs to be a delineation between residential and commercial uses. He also feels vegetable gardens should be exempt from the restrictions.

“You can’t just automatically think you’re going to water a vegetable garden every other day,’” he said. 

“I’m hoping that this is an information gathering material to tweak, and this isn’t a yes or no thing,” Mr. Skinner said. “I don’t want to see older people being overburdened by this kind of stuff.”

Councilman Frank Beyrodt said he agrees with Mr. Skinner on gardening. “There’s no way to do that every other day,” he said, agreeing that exemptions in the proposal need to be addressed. 

John Cullen of Northville said he believes the need for restricting watering every other day is because there are five-story apartment buildings going up “all over town” and warehouses going up in Calverton, and they require more water.

“I don’t think that’s fair to the people,” he said. 

“The intent is that you’re using the water efficiently and not just egregiously wasting it,” Mr. Mancini said. “We’re certainly not going home to home to look after normal residents … I don’t think this is going to be as big a deal as people think.”

Keith Lewin of Calverton said police and code enforcement shouldn’t waste their time chasing people down for how they are using their water, but instead educate residents about best practices. 

The proposal discussed Tuesday “has all sorts of things where people can enforce and impose fines on users,” Mr. Lewin said. “I’m very much a proponent of conservation and I’ve had a 45-year-plus career in environmental sciences and climate change.”

He feels the restrictions proposed “aren’t necessary and they are not improving the conservation of water. They’re just putting an onus on the property owner.” 

Mr. Lewin said the section on penalties and offenses is not necessary, unless there’s a problem with large users.

Mr. Mancini said the main demand is from 12 a.m to 6 a.m. 

“These are things we’re going to work through,” he said. “That’s the purpose of having this hearing.”