The results of a survey aimed at gauging Hampton Bays residents’ opinions about the safety and quality of their drinking water are in, and they have provided more questions than clear answers.
According to the 1117 residents who responded to the mail survey, 583, or 47.8 percent, said they were satisfied with the way the Hampton Bays Water District is managed, while the other half indicated they were not satisfied or not sure. Nearly 45 percent of respondents said they thought it was safe to drink the water in Hampton Bays, while 54.6 percent said they purchased bottled water, and nearly 31 percent said they have water filtration systems in their homes.
“If you group the ‘no’s’ with the unsures, that’s more than half, which is an interesting number,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said. “More than half are buying water, choosing not to drink the water. We’re trying to see whether it rises to a public vote.”
When complaints were raised about the quality of Hampton Bays’ drinking water, the town board began exploring whether residents would be better served if the district were merged with the Suffolk County Water Authority. After an online survey and public meetings to discuss the pros and cons of a merger, the town board decided to conduct a mail survey, which it believed would put a sharper point on the opinions and help it determine whether or not to hold a public vote.
To the question of whether the town should have the Suffolk County Water Authority take over the management of the district, 339, or 30.4 percent of respondents answered yes; 452, or 40.6 percent, said no; and 323, or 28.9 percent, were unsure. Schneiderman said not every resident answered every question. And while it’s possible more survey results could come in, he said it was unlikely they would change the final results.
When asked what their greatest concern was, those who took the survey said water quality was at the top of the list, while reliability of the Hampton Bays Water District and cost came in behind that. More than half said they were dissatisfied with the water provided, with 36.5 percent saying they were strongly and 16.2 percent saying they were somewhat dissatisfied. Another 18 percent were in the middle, 10.4 percent were somewhat, and 18.88 percent were extremely satisfied.
“You might like management and feel that they’re responsive, but still not satisfied with the product, so that’s an interesting one,” Schneiderman said.
In response to a question asking what they thought would happen to the cost of drinking water if the Suffolk County Water Authority assumes management, 58.71 percent of the people felt the cost would rise and a small percentage said they thought it would go down.
“Here’s the one thing that we know, which is very different than what the public understands at this point, is with the water authority taking over all the capital expenses of the district, they’d be shared with their over one million customers,” Schneiderman said. “We need to resurface tanks, we need to put in iron filtration systems. There’s a bunch of things that are sort of immediate. If you want to compare apples to apples, and we don’t go with Suffolk County Water Authority and bring the infrastructure up to proper standards, the price for water in Hampton Bays would be more. That’s something we’re going to have to make sure people understand.”
He said it can be argued that people may be willing to pay more to keep their water service local, but for him, what it comes down to at the end of the day is ensuring enough of the public feels safe and confident in their drinking water.
“It’s getting harder and harder on a small scale to come up with the funds necessary to ensure the highest standard of drinking water,” Schneiderman said. “That’s why I think you see these consolidations happening all over the place. Suffolk County Water Authority has a higher level of expertise, has a lab, but this idea of keeping it local, it’s ‘our’ water, there’s validity to that.”
Before it can go to a referendum, the town would have to determine who would be eligible to vote. In the meantime, Schneiderman said the board is concentrating on getting information about the pros and cons of a merger to citizens.