The Riverhead Water District's top irrigation customers, including this Route 58 shopping plaza, have consumed nearly 85 million gallons from April through October to water lawns and landscaping. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Town officials are putting out an urgent plea to Riverhead Water District customers to conserve water.

The water district is pumping at capacity and is having a hard time filling up the district’s storage tanks.

“We’re in dire straits,” Supervisor Sean Walter said in a phone interview this afternoon.

“Everything in the water district is running flat-out right now,” he said. “There’s no room for error. If anything breaks down, we’ve got a big problem. And we’re still having trouble filling up our tanks. A couple of tanks have only 10 or 12 feet of water in them. If we can’t fill them up during the day, we won’t be able to meet the demand at night.”

Overnight and early morning hours see the district’s storage tanks drained on a daily basis during summer because that’s when irrigation system timers typically turn the sprinklers on.

“If we can’t fill them up by Sunday night, we’re going to have a problem,” Walter said. Mondays are the district’s highest demand days.

Mondays are the district’s highest demand days.

The water district this week alerted local fire departments to roll their tanker trucks on all calls for structure fires, Riverhead Water District Superintendent Mark Conklin. said in an interview Wednesday.

The district also imposed odd-even day irrigation restrictions on all residential and business customers and asked all customers to avoid watering their lawns during the peak heat of the day, when watering is inefficient.

“We’re having a heat wave and there’s a drought watch,” Walter said. “People really need to take this seriously.”

Homes in many “new subdivisions are these one- and two-acre sod farms,” Walter said, especially in Wading River.

This afternoon, Conklin shut down the water supply lines to the irrigation systems of a few high-volume users. That’s something the district can do with a handful of large customers.

Walter said the new irrigation systems at McGann-Mercy and Riverhead high schools, combined with the Stoneleigh Woods senior community on Middle Road, use a quantity of water equal to the output of one of the district’s high-volume wells.

Riverhead School Superintendent Nancy Carney voluntarily ordered the school district’s irrigation system shut down today, Walter said.

Riverhead Town Attorney Robert Kozakiewicz wrote to the school district, and several other large-volume users on Thursday, ordering them to cease all water use for gardening, landscapes and lawns. Letters were sent to McGann-Mercy, the owners of the Home Depot shopping plaza, and senior communities Sunken Ponds, the Highlands at Aquebogue,the Highlands at Reeves, Windcrest, Stoneleigh Woods and Saddle Lakes.

Last year, five of those six senior communities combined to use nearly 85 million gallons of water for irrigation purposes from April through October, according to Riverhead Town records.

Stoneleigh Woods, which consumed more than 31 million gallons of water for irrigation, consumed more water for irrigation than 17 of the district’s top 20 consumers drew for all purposes. For example, Stoneleigh Woods used more water for irrigation from April through October in 2015 than Peconic Bay Medical Center — sixth on the top-20 list at 14.7 million gallons — used in the entire calendar year.

The largest irrigation users in the water district last year (April-October) were:

Stoneleigh Woods 31,055,000 gallons
Windcrest 18,438,000 gallons
Sunken Ponds 14,862,000 gallons
Riverhead Reeves 20,228,000 gallons
Home Depot 14,943,000 gallons
Riverhead Sound 14,551,000 gallons

The water district was closing the valves on those users today, Walter said.

Most of the water district’s top users in 2015 were high-density housing communities, including the top three users: Glenwood Village (number one at 63.8 million gallons), Foxwood Village (number two at 41.4 million gallons) and Thurms mobile home parks (39.4 million gallons). Separate irrigation-only usage data for the top 20 users was not available.

“We seem to have an insatiable appetite for water because everybody has to have a green lawn,” Walter said today. “It comes with a hefty price tag,” he said. Wells, pumps and storage tanks are expensive.

“We invested $5.5 million and that got us from 2010 to 2016,” the supervisor said. “We’re looking at another $10 million investment to keep up with growing demand.” He said today the town board has a proposal for $10 million worth of upgrades including new wells, pumps and storage tanks.

“All so we can water our grass,” he said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.