Op-Ed: Suffolk Bill Would Set Irrigation Rules

It would seem to be a non-brainer: a Suffolk County “Law To Establish Requirements For Automatic Irrigation Systems,” as it’s titled.

Who hasn’t had the experience of driving in Suffolk on a rainy day and encountering a sprinkler system spraying water into the air—even though it’s raining?

The bill authored by Legislator Al Krupski of Peconic begins by declaring that “Suffolk County’s aquifer system is not infinite and is the only source of water available to meet the needs of the county’s population.” And, it continues, “according to the Suffolk County Water Authority, approximately 70% of the water pumped is used for outdoor purposes like landscape irrigation, and as much as 50% of this water is wasted due to overwatering caused by inefficiencies in irrigation methods and systems.”

But “smart devices such as irrigation controllers and rain sensors can significantly reduce the amount of water needed to irrigate turf and prevent overwatering,” it goes on.

“Therefore, the purpose of this law is to establish requirements for all residential and commercial lawn/turf and garden irrigation systems to better preserve, conserve and manage our groundwater resources,” it concludes.

An initial public hearing was held on the measure earlier this month. The public hearing will continue when the legislature next meets on Oct. 11 in Riverhead.

At the public hearing on Sept. 6 in Hauppauge, a representative from the SCWA and a board member of the Irrigation Association of New York testified strongly in favor of the bill. The mayor of East Hampton Village, Jerry Larsen, sent a letter of support.

On Sept.14, the SCWA and the Irrigation Association held a seminar on smart irrigation devices and techniques at the North Sea Community House for irrigation professionals. At it, the SCWA’s “Water Wise” program which offers $250 in a bill credit to SCWA customers who install a water-saving device was noted. Some 1,500 customers have signed up.

And there was an editorial last month in The Suffolk Times headlined: “Water conservation bill must be approved.” The Mattituck-based newspaper said: “Groundwater supplies are limited; droughts like last year’s will certainly happen again. How can we be better prepared?….We on the North Fork must protect what we have—our land, our salt creeks and bay, and our groundwater supply. Our only way forward is preservation.”

But at the Sept. 6 public hearing, Legislator Nick Caracappa of Selden spoke emphatically against the measure. “I will not support this bill because it’s a burden on homeowners, it’s a burden on businesses, it’s a burden on contractors who do the work,” he said.

Caracappa before being elected to the Suffolk Legislature in 2020 worked for 34 years for the SCWA where he was president of Local 393 of the Utility Workers’ Union of America.

He pointed out that the bill does not include farms “or golf courses. I think it’s hypocritical. I think it needs more work…mostly…because Suffolk County Water Authority is the biggest hypocrite when it comes to waste and treated drinking water. On Long Island, they are the biggest wasters…and they want to come after and attack residents of Suffolk County who own half-acre properties or less?”

Caracappa, an enrolled Conservative, cross-endorsed by the GOP in election runs, is the leader of the Republican majority on the legislature and this could impact on the fate of the bill.

At the Sept. 6 public hearing, Dan Dubois, director of external affairs for the SCWA, emphasized its “support” for the measure. “SCWA, as I am sure you all are aware, serves 1.2 million residents in Suffolk County. We’re one of the largest groundwater providers in the nation and we recognize the importance of…careful stewardship of our aquifer,” he said. “This legislation will require newly installed or upgraded irrigation systems to be equipped with a weather-based irrigation controller. This is the next logical step in ensuring that we have an abundant water supply in our county, as these devices have been shown to be an effective way to decrease water consumption.”

He went on: “We’re fortunate in Suffolk County that we have an abundant aquifer. But that supply is not unlimited and we have to make sure that we do everything we can to protect our aquifer and ensure that we take careful stewardship of our water resources….This bill is a significant step in the right direction for water conservation…”

Mike Dyer, a board member of the Irrigation Association, testified that an automatic irrigation system “will move up and down the watering schedule in relation to what the weather does. It requires no human input once it’s up and running.” It “will do wonders for saving water.”

He said, “We’re not trying to make people change their habit of doing things, but we’re trying to stop driving down the street in the pouring rain and watching sprinklers running. As a professional, it goes against my grain. I really want to just pull my car over, knock on the door and go, ‘Come on,’ but you can’t do that because you don’t know who’s in the house. So, it’s just a way to get the consumer and the end-user to be more responsible in their water use.”

The county’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Consumer Affairs would enforce the proposed law.

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