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Odd-even day restrictions on lawn watering will be mandatory this year, if a proposed local law is adopted by the Riverhead Town Board.

Aiming to conserve water during times of peak demand, the Riverhead Water District is looking to impose restrictions based on street address numbers. Locations with odd-numbered addresses would be allowed to water lawns, wash cars and fill pools only on odd-numbered days, while locations with even-numbered addresses would be allowed to do so only on even-numbered days.

Irrigation of common areas in residential communities would be allowed only every other day, with no watering at all permitted between 5 and 9 a.m..

The restrictions would be in place from April 15 through Sept. 15 each year, and users would be subject to penalties if they are found in violation.

The Town Board, which is the governing body of the Riverhead Water District, is expected to set a Feb. 7 public hearing on the proposal. A vote to schedule the public hearing is on the board’s agenda for its meeting Wednesday.

“We’ve been sending out our restrictions every year but they just had no teeth to them. This codifies it,” Water District Superintendent Frank Mancini told the Town Board at its work session Thursday.

The Town Board has previously adopted water use restriction policies that were the same as or similar to the restrictions it is now looking to make part of town code. Most recently, it adopted a policy imposing odd-even day restrictions in 2020, but only for the months of June, July and August, when water demand is usually at its yearly peak. That policy did not provide enforcement capabilities.

At times when the town district has had trouble maintaining safe supply levels, the district has gone as far as shutting off water to its largest irrigation customers.

Mancini said the restrictions were recommended by the town’s Environmental Advisory Committee, though some of the committee’s recommendations were not embraced by town officials, who thought they were “maybe too aggressive and maybe just an overreach of government.” 

He said the goal of the restrictions are to rein in water use while still allowing residents to irrigate their lawns.

Around 70% of water used during the summer is for irrigation purposes, Mancini said.

The proposed law also gives the town supervisor the ability to declare a water emergency in any area of the town served by the water district upon the recommendation of the water district superintendent. The emergency allows the implementation of restrictions on water consumption for 24-hour periods until the emergency declaration is rescinded.

Other prohibited acts in the proposed law include using public water in a way that causes runoff; using a hose that dispenses public water that is not fitted with a shut-off nozzle or other device that causes the hose to stop dispensing water when not in use; using public water on driveways and sideways; using public water for a fountain or other decorative water feature without the use of a recirculating system; and using public water to irrigate landscapes while it’s raining.

Violations of the law would result in a notice being issued to correct or remove the violation, according to the proposal. If the violation is not remedied within a specified time period, the law empowers the water district superintendent to terminate the water service to the building or property and/or recommend fines or penalties. Fines for violations would be set at not less $100 for the first offense, not less than $250 for the second offense and not less than $500 for the third offense and every subsequent offense, and/or imprisonment for a maximum of 15 days for each offense after the second offense.

“There’s a lot of common sense to this,” Council Member Frank Beyrodt said.

The turn of the new year marked a rate increase and new tiered rate system for Riverhead Water District customers. Under the new structure, water district customers pay more per thousand gallons of water used if they exceed a certain threshold. Thresholds are set according to a customer’s meter size. Mancini said the new rate system will help rein in water use along with the new restrictions.

This past summer, the water district remained under its pumping capacity during a regional drought watch, which Mancini contributed to customers following the water restrictions put in place in 2020.

Mancini said water conservation tools such as smart controllers and rain sensors can help customers automatically adjust their water use to environmental conditions like rain. Those tools are used in town parks to control irrigation, he said.

Mancini said more information about the rate restructuring and water restrictions can be found on their water bills and on the water district website.

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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: alek@riverheadlocal.com