The Suffolk County Water Authority on Tuesday held a news conference to ask all East End residents to stop watering lawns between midnight and 7 a.m., saying it creates too much of a drain on the fire departments' needs. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

Suffolk County Water Authority officials have expanded water emergency conditions declared in Southampton Village to its customers in the entire town, along with Southold, East Hampton and Shelter Island. 

The declaration of a Stage 1 Water Emergency for those towns was made to ensure there is sufficient water for firefighting and other emergency purposes, Water Authority and municipal officials said at a Tuesday morning news conference. It comes just days after the state designated Long Island and more than 20 other counties to be on drought watch.

Customers of the authority, which serves 1.2 million users and is the largest groundwater supplier in the country, were asked to stop all irrigation between midnight and 7 a.m., refrain from all nonessential water use and reduce shower times. 

Authorities fear that overuse could leave the system with a low supply at a critical moment. During early morning peak hours, “In the event there’s a fire requiring drawing a lot of water quickly from fire hydrants, there’s a high possibility that water will not be available,” Water Authority chairman Patrick Halpin said at the news conference.

A brush fire at the same time as a house or business fire could be “a catastrophe,” he said. 

In a Stage 2 emergency, the authority would “seek to stop the use of all lawn irrigation systems,” an agency spokesman wrote in an email. “We’ve never had to go to a Stage 2.”

Warnings have been posted on websites for the Water Authority and Southampton Village, where the situation is especially dire.

Halpin said the Water Authority will use a mix of surveillance and persuasion in coming weeks to reach holdouts. 

“We are going to be sending people out at night to see who isn’t with the program, who’s watering during that peak time.” Agency officials will then “go door to door to those individuals to ask them to make the change,” he said. 

Up to 90% of the water pumped on Long Island on some days is used for irrigation, Long Island Water conference officials have said. 

Owners of the East End estates are among the biggest water consumers, records show. Halpin said that about 300 to 400 of the East End’s “big users” each consume 1 million gallons of water per year, far more than the 160,000 gallons of a typical residential customer.   

Water Authority records Newsday obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request show that a Meadow Lane, Southampton Village estate owned by a Bahamas-registered limited liability company, Ickenham Limited, consumed 16,418,076 gallons of water between July 2021 and June 2022 — about 103 times the average. It was the biggest consumer of water in Suffolk County in the records Newsday reviewed. 

Southampton Village estates owned by the family of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and businessman Jonathan M. Tisch also appeared on the list of top water consumers. In East Hampton, estates owned by financier Howard Marks and real estate magnate Robert Taubman topped the list. All consumed millions of gallons. Their representatives did not comment. 

The Water Authority pumps 70 billion gallons per year.“The estates aren’t the problem,” Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said at Tuesday’s event. “They just happen to be particularly large consumers of water,” he said.

But some large users could pose special problems, Halpin said, recounting a recent encounter between a Water Authority official and an estate manager who refused to change his watering schedule. “If the people that own this estate, a very wealthy family, see a brown lawn, I’ll lose my job,” the estate manager said, according to Halpin. 

Southampton Village administrator Charlene Kagel-Betts said in an interview after a conversation with the village attorney Tuesday that the village has “no ability to enforce (water restrictions) at this point and time.”

Village officials will ask “folks to please respect” guidelines, she said in an earlier interview. The Village Board is scheduled to discuss the water emergency at its Aug. 11 meeting, she said.

In Southold, Supervisor Scott Russell said farms consume a significant amount of water in the area, but probably not as much as homeowners use on lawns and landscaping. 

“We do a tremendous amount of outreach with regard to watering lawns,” he said, but “we can do better, absolutely.” 

In an interview, Southampton Town Emergency manager Ryan Murphy said local fire departments have already had “situations with diminished pressure, but not flat out where we have no water.” 

In some cases, water officials are able to boost pressure to an area when firefighters need it. “But as population has gone up, with more residents around…we’re seeing an increased incidence of this, where the system is really being taxed out.”

East Hampton Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, in an interview, said that the town was attempting to amplify the Water Authority message through its own platforms. “We don’t think that changing irrigation times is really a huge sacrifice,” he said. 

He noted that some of the big consumption numbers could be driven not by irrigation but by geothermal climate control systems. 

With James Carbone

Latest videos