Photo: Adobe Stock

Long Island is on a drought watch due to dry weather conditions over the last few weeks, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. But the Riverhead Water District has yet to push the capacity of its system this summer, according to Superintendent Frank Mancini, who credits the water conservation efforts of customers.

“We haven’t broken 20 million [gallons] a day yet, and we had before in the past,” Mancini said, referencing the number he said would be “pushing” the pumping system and trigger the district to issue an advisory for conservation. 

Over the past two weeks, most of the Town of Riverhead has experienced 10% to 25% less precipitation than normal, according to the National Weather Service’s advanced hydraulic prediction service

The district pumped roughly 15-17 million gallons a day on average in July and around 17-18 million gallons a day in the last week, according to Mancini. On Monday, which Mancini said is typically the biggest day of the week for the district, it pumped just over 18 million gallons.

“But until we get a nice rain, we still want people to conserve. We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said.

Mancini is asking customers to conserve or reduce the water they use for outdoor irrigation. 

“That’s the big one. Any type of conservation helps but certainly between 1 a.m. and 8 a.m. is where the big hit occurs,” Mancini said. “And, you know, if people could just either give up if their grass is brown, or minimize what they have, that would help.”

Mancini said he is “shocked” that the district isn’t pumping more and attributes it to customers’ conservation efforts. He credits the public awareness campaign to conserve water within the Town of Riverhead, spearheaded by groups like Riverhead’s Environmental Advisory Committee, Peconic Green Growth and the Long Island Community Foundation.

The water district also has to balance conservation efforts with revenue, Mancini said. The district is down more than $200,000 due to the increase in prices for necessary water treatment chemicals. Mancini proposed the Town Board adopt a rate increase for the water district to start next year and cut the free water it gives customers when they pay the minimum service charge to cover the expenses. Along with the increase, the rate would also be restructured into a tiered system, which would see the district’s biggest customers paying more past a certain threshold, based on how much water they use.

[See prior coverage: Town Board poised to approve water rate increase targeted at water district’s biggest customers]

The drought has put stress on the water supply of the Suffolk County Water Authority, which supplies the other four East End towns and Brookhaven. The water authority declared a Stage 1 Water Emergency Alert in Southampton, Southold, East Hampton, and Shelter Island “to ensure that there is sufficient water for firefighting and other emergency purposes.” 

The Riverhead Water District supplies water to the Suffolk County Water Authority in  western Southold, and the water authority supplies water to the Riverhead Water District in Wading River. Mancini said the water authority has plenty of water to supply to water district customers in Wading River and has only had to “use them [the water authority] a few hours a day on the worst days.” The water authority’s supply can also be used to supplement the water district in case of an emergency, like a fire.

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.

Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: