Saying Riverhead’s daily water supply is “seriously challenged,” Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith is “strongly urging” residents and businesses in the Riverhead Water District to reduce lawn irrigation to conserve water “for the foreseeable future.”

“Sprinkler systems require an enormous increase in our water usage, driving usage up as much as 80 percent,” Jens-Smith said in a press release. “And while sunny skies and hot temperatures make for great beach days, they make refilling town water tanks a daily challenge. Without an opportunity to catch up on the supply, the tanks are no longer being filled to daily capacity, and each subsequent day sees their levels dropping.”

In hot weather, when irrigation systems are flowing, Riverhead Water District customers can consumer 18 million to 20 million gallons of water per day.

The supervisor urges residents and businesses to take the following conservation measures:

  • Water lawns on alternating days or every third day.
  • Water early in the morning to maximize dew, or later in the evening after household demand has dropped.
  • Reduce the run time per sprinkler zone.
  • Double check to be sure that sprinkler heads are working properly and are adjusted so that only the lawn, and not the street, is being watered.

“A few simple steps can make a huge difference in assuring that we all continue to have access to a good supply of water now and throughout the summer,” 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,” former water district superintendent Mark 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.

For more information about water conservation, see the Riverhead Water District newsletter at or call 631-727-3205.

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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.