By Peter Boody
When most people are sound asleep or just waking up, the East End’s thirst for water goes ballistic: Suffolk County’s public water service is nearly maxed out every summer night meeting the demand of the area’s myriad automatic lawn irrigation systems.
Hoping to spread out that demand and limit the need for expensive capital improvements, the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA) is sending out a mailing in which it asks its 42,000 residential and commercial customers in East Hampton, Southampton and Southold Towns to voluntarily limit their lawn sprinkling to odd or even days, depending on the street addresses of their properties.
Jeffrey W. Szabo, the authority’s CEO, announced the rationing campaign on Thursday, May 12 at a press conference in front of the SCWA water tower and pumping station off Middle Line Highway and Division Street in Sag Harbor.
Even though the water authority serves all of Suffolk County, the population of which is heavily concentrated to the west, “By far the greatest stress on the system occurs in the East End towns we serve: East Hampton, Southampton and Southold,” Mr. Szabo said.
County Legislator Bridget Fleming and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, both of Sag Harbor, joined him at the rostrum to register their support. Both have a record of backing “initiatives to protect and preserve both surface and groundwater here on Long Island,” Mr. Szabo said.
The rationing request — which will be followed up by automated phone calls, emails and messages on bills — is one element of a three-part conservation program Mr. Szabo outlined on Thursday.
Its other parts are a promotional campaign to get customers to join the SCWA’s “East End Water Wise Club” on the SCWA.com website, through which they can obtain a $50 credit if they can prove they have water-flow restriction devices or rain sensors; and “reaching out to our largest East End customers,” Mr. Szabo said, to directly suggest conservation measures.
There are some individual customers on the East End who consume 20 million gallons of water a year compared to the typical rate of 120,000 to 160,000 gallons a year for most customers, Mr. Szabo noted.
Even if only 5 percent of the SCWA’s East End customers agree to reset their sprinkling systems so they go off every other day, Mr. Szabo said, it could make a big difference in reducing peak demand.
He said the SCWA infrastructure was “stretched to the max” on summer nights between midnight and about 6 a.m., when thousands of irrigation systems kick on. The demand spikes to 550,000 gallons per minute system-wide after sunrise.
According to Mr. Szabo, the SCWA last year delivered between 68 and 69 billion gallons across its system. It recorded a record demand of about 70 billion gallons system-wide in 2010, when the weather was especially hot and dry; the record rate of demand occurred on July 4, 2010, when the SCWA had to pump 560,000 gallons a minute.
The SCWA has spent $20 million beefing up its infrastructure on the East End since 2010 to meet the region’s demand, Mr. Szabo said. Even so, there are problems: reduced water pressure for other users, who sometimes find a trickle of water for their morning showers; a limit to the ability of firefighters to pour water on blazes; and the impending need for more improvements and expansions to meet future demand. That would mean higher bills for ratepayers, Mr. Szabo noted.
The SCWA has projected a need to spend $1 billion over the next 10 years for system improvements.
“Even if we’re able to get just 5 percent of our customers in these areas to comply,” Mr. Szabo said, “it could make a huge difference in our ability to meet peak demand and prevent additional costly infrastructure projects.”