Long Islanders are being urged to reduce watering lawns as...

Long Islanders are being urged to reduce watering lawns as a way to limit water use during an ongoing drought watch. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

A desperate plea by the Suffolk County Water Authority for the residents of four East End towns to refrain from nonessential water use has largely been ignored, officials said Tuesday.

The Water Authority on Aug. 2 declared a Stage 1 Water Emergency for the towns of East Hampton, Shelter Island, Southampton and Southold, urging customers to stop all irrigation between midnight and 7 a.m., halt nonessential water use and reduce shower times to ensure there is sufficient water for firefighting and other emergency purposes.

But Joe Pokorny, deputy chief executive officer for operations at the Water Authority, said Tuesday the requests did little to change behavior.

"We sent people out in the middle of the night to take a look and see who was watering their lawns and who was complying," Pokorny said during a panel of municipal and private sector water leaders in Melville hosted by the Long Island Association. "Our people came back and said 'it would it be easier for us to tell you who's not watering their lawn.' … So there's a real problem."

The Water Authority's announcement came days after the state put Long Island and more than 20 other counties on drought watch. Gov. Kathy Hochul Tuesday expanded that watch to include all counties except those in New York City, the Adirondacks, the Eastern Great Lakes and Westchester.

Pokorny said the authority has sent targeted emails and robocalls to customers. The message, he said, is still not getting through.

"People are just so [concerned] with their lawns and don't want to see their plants die," Pokorny said.

Nassau County’s sprinkler ordinance prohibits the irrigation of residential and commercial properties between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. while following an odd/even split for which days they can water their lawns.

Paul Granger, superintendent of the Hicksville Water District, said the system works — to a point.

"You have people from New York City who come to Nassau or Suffolk and they're unaware of these warnings," Granger said. "So water conservation is really communicating the value and also educating folks on why they play an important role with regard to sustainability. … You can make a big impact but it's a challenge."

Chris Alario, president of Liberty Utilities, which in January completed the purchase of New York American Water, which serviced 123,000 Nassau customers, said the company has deployed 20,000 high-tech water meters that allow customers to track their usage through a smartphone app. Liberty, he said, will spend $35 million on the program as it deploys another 106,000 meters in the next two years.

"This is going to be one of our biggest game changers," Alario said, "because now you're actually giving your customers the power and the information to help partner with you in managing demand."

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