Water surrounds the East End, but at many local properties, it is often guzzled in quantities as grand as the homes that grace them. And according to information provided by the Suffolk County Water Authority, excessive consumption, particularly in extreme heat, strains the whole system.
Right now, the authority (SCWA) is in the process of acquiring land for additional wells in the Southampton area to keep pace with the high demand here on the East End and beyond. A drought in July 2010 coincided with a record-shattering day for water consumption county wide, causing the SCWA to pump 500,000 gallons per minute on July 16 to keep pace with demand.
But the demand for water is stretching resources all over. A special National Geographic report on water, published last year, states that aquifers are being drained much more quickly than the natural recharge rate.
According to data obtained by The Press via a Freedom of Information Act request to the SCWA, the four biggest residential consumers of public water in Southampton and East Hampton towns in 2010 used 54.9 million gallons of water combined—more than half the amount of water in Southampton Village’s Lake Agawam alone. Those who get their water from private wells were not included in the SCWA data.
The high demand has led to low water pressure, usually around 4 a.m., which Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley called a “health hazard and safety issue” that affects the potable water pressure at Southampton Hospital and the pressure in the fire mains.
“It also impacts every building that has sprinklers,” Mayor Epley said.
The average customer in Suffolk County uses approximately 160,000 gallons of water annually, according to Tim Motz, director of communications for the SCWA. Yet the top East End consumers far outstrip that number—and often for homes that are lived in only seasonally.
The top consumer of public water on the East End last year—Millard Drexler, the chairman and CEO of the clothing and accessories retailer J. Crew Group, whose home is on Ocean Road in Bridgehampton—exceeded the county average by more than 115 times, according to SCWA data. His $10 million, 6-acre property consumed 18.4 million gallons of water in the last calendar year.
The second largest residential water consumer was Andrew Zaro’s Rosehill Road property in Water Mill. The chairman of Westchester County-based Cavalry Portfolio Services. Mr. Zaro’s property is listed as using 13.5 million gallons of water.
The biggest water user in East Hampton Town—and third overall on the East End—was listed under the “Estate of Bruce Wasserstein” on Amagansett’s Further Lane. Mr. Wasserstein, an investment banker and businessman and former CEO of the investment bank Lazard, died in 2009. His estate, however, drank up nearly 13 million gallons of water last year.
Of the top 10 residential public water users in Southampton Town, six are in Southampton Village, and of those, three are on oceanfront Meadow Lane. Linda Wachner’s Meadow Lane property was third in Southampton Town at nearly 8 million gallons used in 2010; followed by Robin Pickett’s Great Plains Road property in the village at 5.3 million gallons; Ira Drukier’s Gin Lane property in the village drew just over 4.9 million gallons, Ian Schrager’s Meadow Lane property, used 4.8 million gallons; Kenneth Lonergan’s Matthews Lane property in Bridgehampton used almost 4.8 million gallons; Joseph Gurrera’s Hayground Road property in Bridgehampton consumed nearly 4.4 million gallons; JAF 616 Ox Pasture Holdings’ Ox Pasture Road property in the village drank up just over 4.2 million gallons; and one of Robert Sillerman’s properties on Meadow Lane in the village (it is reported that he owns at least three properties on that street) poured through a bit more than 3.9 million gallons last year.
The top 10 water users in East Hampton, in general, had lower rates of consumption than in Southampton Town, and six of the top 10 were in Montauk.
In addition to Bruce Wasserstein’s estate, East Hampton’s top water users were Dwight Anderson’s Cross Highway property in Amagansett, which drank up approximately 10.1 million gallons; Geraldine Gottesman’s Briar Patch Road property in East Hampton Village used nearly 7.9 million gallons; Daniel J. Cahill’s Hamilton Drive property in Montauk went through almost 1.1 million gallons; Stephen Thieke’s Wills Point Road property in Montauk used just over 896,000 gallons; Gloria Prager’s North Farragut Road property in Montauk consumed approximately 846,500 gallons; Scott Schneider’s Old Montauk Highway property in Montauk at soaked up 790,000 gallons; Wen Gamba’s Lincoln Road property in Montauk used approximately 756,700 gallons; Ana P. Gonzalez-Leon’s Accabonac Road property in East Hampton consumed just over 746,000 gallons; and David Gahan’s South Davis Avenue property in Montauk consumed approximately 717,700 gallons.
Mr. Motz said that most, if not all, of the top consumers have geothermal heating and cooling systems that use a lot of water. Sprinklers also tend to tax the system, he added. Generally activated during the overnight hours, sprinklers tend to cause water levels to dip by morning.
Nearly 60 percent of a household’s water footprint can go toward lawn and garden maintenance, according to the National Geographic report.
Last week, The Press reached out to some of the biggest water users, most of whom were stunned to find out that they made the top 10 in Southampton and East Hampton towns.
“I don’t think we want to comment on water use on the East End,” said a woman who answered the phone at Mr. Drukier’s estate on Friday, before hanging up.
But others did have something to say.
“It doesn’t seem logical that I would use that much,” said John Pickett of the 5.3 million gallons his Southampton Village property was listed as consuming last year. The couple lives at their Great Plains Road home for about four months a year when they are not in Florida. “We couldn’t use that much water, could we?”
Mr. Pickett said a few years ago he was astonished to receive a $50,000 bill which he was told was for “back pay” to cover several years for an apparent meter misreading. He said his property uses a private well for irrigation.
He and his wife share the house with a small dog and their children visit occasionally. He said he and his wife take two showers a day and he does not believe the water in the swimming pool has been changed in five years. He said his builder checked for leaks, but found none. Mr. Pickett reported that he had disputed his bill, but to no avail.
“I think the whole point here is not the usage; it’s the water company,” Mr. Pickett said.
According to the SCWA, Mr. Pickett’s Great Plains Road home uses a water-guzzling geothermal heating and cooling system, which is a primary factor in the high water usage.
A year-round Montauk resident said she was positively floored to be on the list.
“This is outrageous,” Ms. Prager exclaimed upon hearing her Montauk home ranked sixth in public water consumption in East Hampton Town. She said a water bill she received during last year’s drought, for $663.18, almost gave her a heart attack. She said she was shocked because her home is dwarfed by the “huge, billion-dollar” homes in her town. She added that she has considered that someone might even be tapping into her water line.
Ms. Prager reported that her property uses an underground watering system to keep her lawn green.
“I set it according to how dry it is. It’s off now. It’s practically a swamp here,” she said of the recent rains.
Ms. Prager noted that she also has a hot tub and an unusually deep swimming pool—somewhere between 9½ to 11 feet deep at its deepest point—because she has a diving board so that the children in her family could learn to dive safely.
Evaporation from her 55,000-gallon pool is also an issue, she said. Uncovered pools throughout the country lose 150 billion gallons to evaporation every year, according to National Geographic.
Clive Cardozo, the estate manager for Mr. Sillerman’s Southampton Village property, which includes a one-hole putting green, said he was surprised to hear that the property made the top 10 over two others Mr. Sillerman—of CKX, the company that owned “American Idol,”—owns nearby, which include indoor and outdoor pools and use more irrigation, he said.
Most of the water use for the property that ranked 10th in Southampton Town goes toward landscaping, Mr. Cardozo said.
“We are very much into water conservation,” he said, adding that the property uses native plants, such as dune grasses, that do not use irrigation and that the sprinklers shut off in the rain. “The only water consumption on that property is irrigation.” He declined to divulge the amount of the property’s water bill.
Some of the best ways to reduce water consumption, Mr. Motz said, are to install water-saving appliances and rain-sensor automatic shut-off devices on sprinklers, in addition to checking for leaky faucets and using ground cover that requires less watering than a lawn. A shorter shower or low-flow shower head, for example, can save about 450 gallons per month, according to the SCWA.
In Southampton Village, where water consumption is particularly high, Mr. Epley said that officials are currently working on a contract with the SCWA to place an additional well on Flying Point Road. Additionally, village officials will monitor the pressure with the water authority and, if necessary, declare an emergency that would cease lawn watering.