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Shelter Island wants to delay sprinkler ban

Shelter Island Town Hall. (July 26, 2012)

Shelter Island Town Hall. (July 26, 2012) Credit: Randee Daddona

Shelter Island officials want to delay action on banning underground lawn sprinklers for the rest of the year to give a special committee time to determine the impact those systems have on groundwater supplies and make recommendations.

Long Island's smallest town is located between the North and South forks and relies on its own underground aquifer for water.

Some homeowners near the island's shoreline have for decades reported occasional problems with saltwater getting into their wells. Officials have not determined whether the contamination is directly related to sprinkler use drawing down the aquifer.

Residents in the higher central areas of Shelter Island have questioned why a ban on underground sprinkler use must be imposed on the entire island.

The town board imposed a full ban on underground sprinklers in 2003, but gave residents who already had systems another 10 years to use them before they became illegal. The board extended that deadline to May 1, after dozens of residents complained that green lawns were important to maintain real estate values, and that modern sprinkler systems do not use as much water.

Town officials formed the committee to study the issue, but after 11 meetings its members say groundwater supply tests will not be complete until at least July 15 and recommendations could take several more months.

There are about 120 underground sprinkler systems in the town. The only systems allowed to operate after the ban goes into effect are those connected to an underground cistern with a capacity of at least 8,000 gallons and is supplied with water from off-island sources.

The town board has set a March 28 public hearing about extending the moratorium on implementing the ban until Dec. 31. The board must make its decision by June 27.

Town officials said the committee's hydrologist has found no indication that allowing people to continue using existing underground sprinklers will create a short-term problem with the groundwater supply, and that they can be safely used for all of 2014.

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