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Public water in Southold Town: Suffolk County Water Authority officials discuss demand, capacity and conservation

Suffolk County Water Authority is planning to expand its capacity to supply customers on the North Fork as it simultaneously pushes conservation measures to keep peak demand in check, SCWA officials told town officials at a meeting Wednesday with town board members and planners.

Public water consumption in the Town of Southold is currently about a billion gallons of water per year, SCWA deputy CEO for operations Joseph Pokorny told town officials. The water authority’s entire customer base uses 72 billion to 78 billion gallons annually, he said. On an average day, North Fork customers use 2.8 million gallons of water. On a peak day that number can swell as high as 8.6 million gallons, Pokorny said.

“Building to meet peak demand is wildly expensive,” he said, likening it to power companies building plants so people can all turn their air-conditioners on at 4 p.m. “We’re much better off trying to bring peak demand down,” Pokorny said.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation has set a conservation target of reducing peak demand by 15 percent over the next three or four years, SCWA CEO Jeff Szabo said.

The average Southold residential customer uses 113,000 gallons of water per year. The largest residential customer uses 3.4 million gallons a year, he said.

“We’re tring to understand more about people’s consumption patterns,” Szabo said.

Open-loop geothermal systems are “a big problem,” Pokorny said. “We’d like to see legislation banning open-loop geothermal systems that use public water.”

The biggest driver of water consumption is the automatic irrigation system. Daily peaks are consistently seen in the predawn hours on summer days, when irrigation systems are typically activated. The SCWA id conducting education and outreach to consumers, urging the implementation of conservation measures such as rain sensors, lawn-watering on odd/even schedules, limiting run-times, and the like.

The current water conservation plan, originally adopted in 1989, was updated this year. Conservation is a double-edged sword for a water supply company because a drop in consumption it means less revenue. Ultimately, successful conservation efforts may result in higher customer rates.

The SCWA officials reviewed their supply system with town officials. The authority has 58 public water supply wells serving Southold Town. It also has 17 pump stations in Southold and two pump stations in Riverhead to serve Southold customers. Another pump station is planned in Riverhead, to be built on property the water authority acquired on Pier Avenue, north of Sound Avenue.

The authority is planning to construct a new well on Evergreen Drive at a cost of $600,000 and will continue to replace old water mains with upgraded ones. It has spent $11.4 million on system improvements for the North Fork, Pokorny said. Among them are the $4 million Laurel Lake tank and booster pumps.

In addition, SCWA has a water supply agreement with the Town of Riverhead which allows it to draw water from Riverhead’s system to help supply Southold customers. It does not go both ways.

“The water only flows east,” SCWA CEO Jeff Szabo said in response to a question about that from Councilman William Ruland. The water authority supplies the Riverhead Water District in Wading River with water flowing from the west, Szabo said.

The majority of new hookups in Southold Town have been existing homes that switch from private wells to the public water system rather than new construction, Szabo said. Some hookups are homes with private wells that have poor water quality, others are homeowners who simply feel more comfortable with a public water supply, he said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.