Most of us who keep honeybees on Long Island keep bees in a suburban setting. This often causes conflict with neighbors who have never approached any kind of livestock, have moved there from the "city", and probably believe that all animals are far, far away. They probably also have a great fear of anything with a point on the end like honeybees. Generally we can get away with this because the hives are hidden in an out of the way place, the bees fly at about 35 feet, and we do it quietly without attracting attention. We generally get attention in two ways, either a swarm or bees gathering water from a pool or pet dish.
Swarms don't happen often and you have to combine the probability of their occurrence with the probability that the neighbors will be outside in their path when they do swarm to generate a problem. This makes the swarm a low probability problem generator.
Not so with bees gathering water. The bees need water both to dilute the stored honey to make feed for the larva and for air conditioning on a hot day. On Long Island, this means they need water from April through October. Since they do it on nice days, there is a greater probability that the neighbors are going to cross paths with a honeybee gathering water when they are at their pool, working in the yard, or keeping Fido cool with fresh water in his bowl. Even though the bees are not aggressive when doing this, most people don't care. It is an invitation to problems.
The Good Neighbor Policy of the Long Island Beekeepers Club states that the beekeeper should supply water continuously throughout the time period when bees will need water so that the bees do not become used to visiting the neighbor's watering sites and thus cause a problem. It is important to get the watering sites established early to prevent them from becoming used to a different site first since bees are creatures of habit, they appear to have a certain amount of communication ability, and once a problem arises, neighbors have long memories.
Once a honeybee starts going to a site for water, every time she is enlisted for water duty, she will return to known sources. She works as a field bee for about three weeks so that means that even if you provide a better, closer site after a problem arises, it will be about three weeks before all of those workers used to the problem site will have died off. Also, there is some evidence that workers enlist others to gather water in the same way they enlist others for nectar or pollen, by giving them some indication of direction, distance, or smell. Thus, those bees already using the problem site may enlist others to it before they die, prolonging the problem.
People can become quite irate if they are unable to use their pools due to fear of being stung, if one of their children gets stung as he steps on a bee gathering warm splash water around the pool, or if Fido's dish of water has bees around it when they check it. It is thus important to avoid any possible occurrence of a problem, before it happens.
Establishing a water site is easy but maintaining it requires diligence as it can easily get dumped or go dry during the summer. A watering site is best established with a container of water and partially submerged rocks or floating islands for the bees to land on and walk down to the water to gather it. They don't really like real cold water, probably because it chills them and makes it difficult to fly. Placing the container in a sunny spot will allow them to easily find it and will also keep it warm.
This, unfortunately, raises another problem, mosquitoes. Mosquitoes will find this standing water an excellent place to breed if it stands for more than a few days. It is thus important to have a regular schedule to dump and refill the water container.
In today's society, laws are often passed in the heat of emotion that have no reasonableness in practice or legality but once they are on the books, it is very difficult to get them changed. Lets protect our right to keep bees by avoiding problems. Get the water sources out and keep them filled!!!