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Shelter Island leaders to further study sprinkler issue

Shelter Island Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty. (July 10,

Shelter Island Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty. (July 10, 2013) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The Shelter Island Town Council, after getting reports from committees studying the impact of sprinkler systems on the fragile local groundwater supply, will likely gather more information before deciding whether to ban the use of sprinklers next year, officials said.

A decade ago, underground sprinklers were banned in the town -- which has its own underground aquifer -- but people with such systems were permitted to use them for 10 years.

Just before the deadline in September, the town council extended sprinkler use until May 1, after many town residents said modern technology -- including remote control and better ways of stopping leaks -- made the ban unnecessary.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty said recent months of study have made it clear the town needs to do more research and cannot simply rely on history in making its decision. "This law . . . may have attracted our attention to a big issue that goes beyond irrigation -- the future of our water quality and quantity. It's one of our biggest issues," he said.

Almost every home on Shelter Island has a private well. Homes near the shore are sometimes plagued by salt water that gets into their shallow wells. But local residents have opposed efforts by the Suffolk County Water Authority to bring in public water from off the island, saying it could lead to a wave of unwanted new development that would increase taxes.

Dougherty predicted it would take a few months more to come up with the answers to the question of how sprinklers impact the groundwater. "If we develop good information by the end of April, we could conceivably extend it [sprinkler use] by a couple of months. It's better to have this right than on time," he said.

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