The village of Old Westbury is struggling to keep up with water demand as the SUNY Old Westbury and New York Institute of Technology campuses expand and developers carve 100-acre estates into heavily irrigated subdivisions.
Developers in the past two decades have acquired nearly a dozen large estates and created more than 100 well-watered lots. Along with this change in the landscape, the two colleges in the village have expanded.
NYIT's proposal to add 700 new dormitory beds could demand an additional 16 million gallons of water each year, according to an environmental-impact statement submitted to the village. The village of 4,700 residents withdrew 731 million gallons of water from the Magothy aquifer last year.
"In the past, if it was a big estate, the whole estate didn't get irrigated," said Rich Humman, president and CEO of H2M architects + engineers, hired by the village to study the water supply. "Now you subdivide and build these beautiful homes, and the entire 50 acres is going to be irrigated."
In March, H2M engineers wrote in a letter to Village Mayor Fred Carillo saying, that "the village barely meets its peak summer demand with all wells in service" and that "it is our opinion that additional supply well capacity should be added immediately."
Village officials agree. "We need water right away," Carillo said. "We have insufficient water."
Plans for tank, more wells To increase supply, officials want to drill two wells and install a 750,000-gallon water storage tank, which would require about $15 million in borrowing, Carillo said. The village now relies on six wells, two tanks, and hasn't opened a new well in 17 years.
If no measures are taken, the village would have to adopt "draconian" measures limiting the watering of lawns or buy water from neighboring districts, Carillo said.
Humman said that much of the demand in Old Westbury "is driven by people watering their lawns." He said that during the summer, all six of the village's wells are running.
"The fact that they have all their wells running in the summertime" shows Old Westbury is in "a little bit of a crisis mode because the irrigation systems continue to operate" for longer than needed, he said.
Carillo said he has another concern: the wooded landscape that covers parts of the village, particularly at SUNY Old Westbury. "There's a lot of forestry there; we'd have a difficult time trying to fight that fire during peak hours in the summer," he said.
Struggles with other towns
The village, because of its elevated topography, has difficulty getting water from other districts. It can create temporary connections in an emergency, officials said, but hasn't been able to join consolidation efforts.
In the past couple years, East Williston and Williston Park argued over the supply -- and price -- of water, and neighboring Old Westbury was sought out as a potential provider to East Williston. The village's answer: We can't help you.
"They wanted us to make a deal with them and give them water," Carillo said. "We need our water."
Tom O'Connor, the village's superintendent of water, said officials can tell that demand is increasing by "how quickly the tank levels drop in the summertime."
The village's six wells are able to pump 2 million gallons a day. One of its storage tanks can hold 500,000 gallons the other 1.5 million. O'Connor said it is often the case overnight that all of the village's "wells are running and trying to keep up with demand, and run in the morning to recover."
"We need more volume, more supply to meet the demands," Carillo said.
Expansion affects systems
Old Westbury in the late 19th century was known for its expansive polo fields and horse farms. When the 12-square-mile area was incorporated in 1924, the village had 500 residents. But the addition of 4-acre zoning -- a single house on a 4-acre lot -- in 1987 led to large subdivisions. The village today has about 1,150 homes and 4,700 residents.
Richard Tobin, chairman of the state section of the American Water Works Association, and superintendent of the Plainview Water District, said "when you start getting expansion like that, and the additional loads based on homes," the "sprinkler systems are what kill you."
While a typical home during the summer might use more than double or triple the water volume than in winter, a 4-acre property on the North Shore may use 600 percent to 800 percent over that same period, Tobin said.
Tobin said the situation in Old Westbury may be unique in Nassau County where "there isn't that much room to expand." This is in contrast to Suffolk County, where there are large swaths of publicly-owned land and protected pine barrens.
Among the historic estates in Old Westbury divided up in the past 20 years is Spring Hill Farms, a roughly 160-acre property once owned by philanthropist and thoroughbred horse owner Ogden Phipps. It is now 22 properties of at least 4 acres each. Hidden Pond, the former estate of the Entenmann family -- founders of the pastry company of the same name -- has been developed for 16 units at 2-acre zoning.
"That's significant demand put on the village," Humman said.
The village has plans to add a well at the Spring Hill development on Red Ground Road and a planned development called Rolu, at the former estate of Robert Winthrop, the late banker and namesake of Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola.
The Old Westbury Police Department had used the site as a rifle range, and the developers must clean up the contamination, Carillo said. He added he did not think any lead casings seeped far enough down to the water table.
For now, the village "can supply everyone," Carillo said, but he worries about a "catastrophe."
Old Westbury's Water System
Six wells (which can run 2 million gallons a day) are drilled into the Magothy Aquifer:
-Glen Cove Road
-SUNY Old Westbury
-Old Westbury Golf and Country Club
In 2014, the village withdrew 731 million gallons from the aquifer, billing 93 percent to village customers
Two existing tanks
-Elevated (Old Westbury Golf and Country Club): holds 500,000 gallons
-In-ground (at the former Rolling Hill property): 1.5 million gallons
Proposed wells and a new tank
-Spring Hill Farms Development
-Pending Rolu Development on the Service Road and Post Road
-1 elevated water tank for SUNY Old Westbury, that would hold 750,000 gallons