Some Long Island water utilities have yet to ease restrictions imposed on customers this summer because of a severe drought even as a few more midweek showers will help ease the shortfall.
“It was an extremely tough summer for water suppliers, and on top of the drought, many suppliers, including us, were at reduced capacity,” said Mindy Germain, a commissioner of the Port Washington Water District in Nassau, which has around 30,000 customers.
Her district and others are installing systems for new pollutants — known as emerging contaminants — while also coping with climate change and salt water infiltrating the aquifer that Long Island depends on for its drinking water.
Soaring demand as the Island’s population exploded after World War II is one reason the aquifer’s fresh water is at risk of mingling with salt water in spots, officials said.
Suffolk had 1,526,344 residents in July 2021, about eight times more than the 197,355 who lived there in 1940, the U.S. Census found. Nassau’s growth more than tripled to 1,390,097 from 406,748 in that period.
Another ongoing hazard to the Island’s supplies of fresh water is cited in a report published in Science of the Total Environment: “Additional human related activities, such as urban runoff and septic systems, have also affected the water quality of the aquifer system.”
Michael Tierney, superintendent of the Water Authority of Western Nassau County, which serves around 120,000 customers, pointed to how the high demand can overtax aged equipment.
Germain and the Suffolk County Water Authority’s chief executive, Jeffrey Szabo, said their clients already were drawing less water.
The Suffolk authority’s 1.2 million customers, Szabo said, only used around 450,000 to 475,000 gallons a minute in the critical midnight to 7 a.m. period, when so many sprinklers get to work, down from near record levels of 500,000 to 530,000 gallons a minute just weeks ago.
Because the Suffolk authority’s ability to supply water for critical operations, including firefighting, can be threatened when demand peaks, on Sept. 2 it asked all clients to stop “nonessential water uses” and refrain from watering lawns from midnight to 7 a.m.
East End clients were asked to follow these same Stage 1 water emergency rules earlier, on Aug. 2.
Declining demand and the prospect of more rain mean those curbs might soon end.
“We are optimistic we will be able to rescind the alert by the end of the month,” Szabo said.
In Nassau, demand is limited at least two ways: both residential and commercial customers cannot irrigate from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and they are assigned odd or even days for when they can turn sprinklers on.
The Western Nassau water authority, Tierney said, needed no new curbs this year. “This summer was very hot,” he said, but demand didn’t surge incredibly.
Tierney and other water officials noted that years of campaigns aimed at encouraging their clients to conserve water appeared to have largely succeeded.
Hempstead Water Commissioner John Reinhardt stressed that even after summer ends, Long Islanders should use water judiciously.
The water department, he said by email, relies on voluntary compliance with its rules.
“People should really stay focused and not take the supply of water for granted. It would really help,” Tierney said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the hours during which Nassau County residents can irrigate outside areas. It is not permitted from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition, the quote from Michael Tierney, superintendent of the Water Authority of Western Nassau County — “People should really stay focused and not take the supply of water for granted; it would really help” — was misattributed in the previous version.