Riverhead residents are being urged by town officials to make changes to their irrigation habits to conserve water this summer.
“On a typical hot summer day, the Riverhead Water District needs to pump up to 20 million gallons of water, using all 17 of the town’s wells,” the town said in a press release issued by the supervisor’s office yesterday.
An estimated 80 percent of the increased demand is for irrigation.
“That’s over six times more water needed than on a typical winter day, when only three or four wells can supply our demand,” the town said in the press release.
The Riverhead Water District has had to construct multimillion dollar well sites and storage capacity in order to be able to supply peak demand.
A new $4.3 million storage tank and booster pump station are currently under construction at the water district plant on Tuthill’s Lane, to serve an area of the town where lack of water capacity threatens fire protection. The new facilities won’t be complete before September, Riverhead Water District Superintendent Mark Conklin said in an interview Monday.
In 2016, a particularly dry, hot summer when the region was placed on a “drought watch,” the water district 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.
The town is asking all water district customers to participate in the odd/even program, Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said.
If your house number is an odd number, water on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. If your house number is even number, water on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
The town is also suggesting the following measures:
- irrigate only before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., which is more efficient since less water is lost to evaporation.;
- equip your automatic sprinkler system with a rain sensor to avoid watering when it’s raining.
- water your lawn for longer periods of time but less frequently, which not only saves water but promotes root growth, which in turn makes a lawn more drought-resistant.
- avoid overwatering, which makes plants prone to pests and adds to storm water runoff, which pollutes our waterways.
“A few simple steps can make a huge difference in assuring that we have a good supply of drinking water, sufficient capacity for emergency and to preserve and protect our environment,” Jens-Smith said.
The Riverhead Water District has been tapped to capacity in recent summers, pumping at or near its maximum capacity month after month.
Overnight and early morning hours see the district’s storage tanks drained on a daily basis during the summer, because that’s when irrigation system timers typically turn the sprinklers on.
District wells have to pump furiously every day to fill the district’s tanks with water. Then at 3 a.m., irrigation systems kick on, and the water tanks begin to drain. And they drain fast.
“You can see it on our charts. You can see what happens at 3 a.m. It drops like a rock,” Conklin told RiverheadLOCAL in a 2015 interview.
“When you have communities with 10 or 12 inch-and-a-half inch service lines that each pump 30 or 40 gallons per minute, that’s 300 to 400 gallons per minute — for one community,” Conklin said. “Multiply that by five or six, and you see what I’m talking about.”
By 8 a.m., Conklin said, the tanks are drained.
“Then we spend the day filling them up again, only to repeat the process the next day,” he said.
In the past, the water district has alerted local fire departments to roll their tanker trucks on all calls for structure fires. Early morning water pressure in the system has sometimes been below what’s needed for fighting fires, Conklin said.
Most of the water district’s top users are high-density housing communities, where combined water usage for irrigation purposes alone has exceeded 80 million gallons from April to October, according to Riverhead Town records.
Some of the biggest users have irrigation systems with separate valves that the water district can shut down when its capacity is in jeopardy.
Otherwise, all conservation measures are on a voluntary basis.