Committee calls for ‘smart’ irrigation sensors 

Southold Town’s water advisory committee is proposing a measure that would require new automatic irrigation systems to be equipped with rain or soil moisture sensors. 

The committee hopes to present a draft of the legislation to the town in two weeks, committee co-chair Kate Daly said in a recent interview. 

“It’s our role to make recommendations to the Town Board and we’re happy to work closer with them in whatever direction they think is best for implementation,” she said. “Our plan was to bring forward these recommendations on water conservation now and we’re spending the second half of the year thinking about the recommendations we’d like to make regarding water quality.”

The committee’s proposal would also apply to those who plan to substantially expand existing systems. However, it would not affect irrigation practices on farms. The committee’s goal is to help curb excessive use of water by residential, institutional and commercial consumers, regardless of whether they have wells or use public water.

Ms. Daly referenced Suffolk County Water Authority data showing that during peak times, 70% of water usage through the summer months is for lawn irrigation.

“That was one reason we felt focusing on irrigation systems would be the best first step for our recommendations for the town,” she said.

The committee first brought the proposal to the Town Board in February, and Ms. Daly, along with fellow committee members Maggie Merrill and John Stype, introduced the issue again at the board’s June 18 work session. 

As suggested templates for the draft, Ms. Merrill said, she was looking at a piece of legislation that Southold Town Supervisor Al Krupski championed last year while still serving in the Suffolk County Legislature, as well as compiling irrigation codes from other towns. 

The committee has also been working with industry professionals such as Riverhead Water District superintendent Frank Mancini and Mike Dwyer of the Irrigation Association of New York to explore the most successful methods of water conservation.

“Based on the information shared by those experts, and the committee’s own research, [we] concluded that a requirement for newly installed irrigation systems to use smart controllers and rain sensors would be a good start ,” Ms. Daly said in a statement. “With smart controllers, homeowners can ‘set it and forget it’ and their sprinklers will no longer operate while it’s raining or while the soil is moist.”

Joyce Novak, executive director of Peconic Estuary Partnership, participated in the meeting via Zoom and said she’d share model codes she had developed with the town.

“You might need to potentially come up with a metric for when you can’t water your lawn — maybe nobody waters their lawn for five years until we reassess the situation,” she suggested.

Anne Smith, Town Board liaison to the committee, and Town Board member Brian Mealy are helping draft the legislation. Ms. Smith said this fits in with the town’s goals around the Climate Smart Communities initiative, for which it created a task force in 2019 to help reduce greenhouse gases and establish other energy efficiencies within Southold.

“I couldn’t be luckier to be assigned to this committee as liaison because it’s a high-functioning, focused group who work with best practices, research, scientists and many perspectives,” Ms. Smith said at the meeting.

Town Board member Greg Doroski said the town should also address the issue of tanker trucks that take Southold Town water from local hydrants to other locales, including Shelter Island, where local irrigation legislation is under discussion. The island already has a ban on filling swimming pools from its own aquifer.

The committee will appear before the Town Board again in December to discuss its recommendations for conservation and water quality, Ms. Daly said.

Those recommendations will address issues such as nitrates in area waterways, as well as PFAS and other contaminants that have been found in wells within the town and in other water sources.

The committee invites those interested to join their meetings on the first Thursday of every month at 6 p.m. in the Southold Town Hall meeting room.

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