The Suffolk County Water Authority’s potential agreement to oversee the Hampton Bays Water District could bring major improvements to community members.
Confidence in the water district has eroded, according to Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, especially after myriad issues this year, including unsafe drinking water, discolored water, and low water pressure.
“It’s critical that we supply good, clean water and that the residents have confidence in the water that is coming out of their tap — that they can drink it, that they can bathe in it,” he said. “The district faces a lot of challenges at the moment — it faced a tough year, and it caused a lot of residents to request that the town explore involving Suffolk County Water Authority in the management.”
With the SCWA taking over day-to-day control comes a $6.1 million investment in improving the district’s infrastructure, testing for more chemicals, collecting test results faster, automating billing, online bill paying, and automated meter readings, according to Schneiderman.
“They test for a couple hundred more chemicals than we currently test for, which is a huge positive,” Schneiderman said this week. “Sometimes we’ll take a sample from a well and we find out six weeks later whether it was safe water or not after it’s already passed through, so day-of test results are also huge.”
SCWA is a large water supplier, with 1.2 million customers, boasting in-house scientists and engineers and its own laboratories. Hampton Bays is one of the last remaining independent water districts in the county, with most of the others having long since merged into the county water authority, according to Schneiderman.
The supervisor added that the capital investment is also a big bonus for the town. He said the infrastructure upgrades need to be done no matter what, but if the board doesn’t approve a merger with SCWA, the bill will have to be footed by residents of the water district, resulting in a major property tax increase.
“I think there’s more positives than negatives with an agreement, but what’s worth noting is it’s reversible — it can be canceled at any time should we not be happy,” Schneiderman said. “We’re not selling any of the infrastructure. We’re not relinquishing control. The town board will remain the commissioners, will set the rates for water consumption, which will not increase, and we want to give the public a chance to weigh in.”
He said he expects some pushback from workers, but added he’s been assured personnel can be based out of the SCWA’s Westhampton office, and with a larger organization, employees will have better opportunities for career advancement. SCWA salaries are 15 to 20 percent higher than what the Hampton Bays Water District workers are making now, Schneiderman said.
The town board will hold a public informational meeting in the Hampton Bays High School auditorium on Wednesday, November 28, at 7:30 PM. Water authority representatives will discuss its proposal to assume management, and the town will gather community opinion and hear concerns. A second meeting is scheduled for the same time and place on December 18.
The meeting will be attended by SCWA Chief Executive Officer Jeff Szabo and other senior management.
“We want to talk about the improvements we intend to make to water quality, the expertise we have in operating a water system, the capital improvements that we will make to the system, the improvements we anticipate making in reliability, and the benefits of having our laboratory overseeing water quality and the testing associated with the system,” said Joe Pokorny, the deputy CEO for operations. “We also want to also hear community concerns and address those. We’ll answer any questions the residents may have.”
Hampton Bays Water District Superintendent Robert King and others have also been invited to present their argument as to why the community shouldn’t support a merger. King could not be reached for comment by press time.