St. John Faces Water Shortages

April 12, 2005 – St. John is in the midst of its annual potable water crisis.
"Lots of people are totally out," water hauler Steve Smith said Tuesday.
One water hauler, who did not want to be identified, said the problem has been going on for more than two months. However, V.I. Water and Power Authority spokesman Patricia Blake Simmonds said Tuesday the WAPA reverse osmosis plant on St. John had a problem starting April 1 but went back into service Tuesday.
Meanwhile, some St. John residents have been without water. Smith said he had 25 people on a list waiting for water. Water hauler Henry Boyd said he has 35 to 40 people waiting.
One St. John resident, who did not want to be named, said Tuesday he was out of water for a day. He said he was able to get water because a friend who was on the list but not out of water gave up his slot.
Boyd said in some cases, guests at vacation villas had to leave because the cisterns ran dry.
Dennis Demar, who manages vacation villas, said Tuesday he tries to plan ahead so the villas do not run out of water. However, he's had to pay $500 a truck load — when the normal rate runs about $285 — to have truckers go to St. Thomas on the barge to get water.
"Yesterday I got two loads," he said.
Water haulers said they were limited to one load a day, or two if they got lucky, because WAPA was only pumping 60,000 gallons a day at the Cruz Bay standpipe.
Simmonds said WAPA did not cut the amount of water distributed through the Cruz Bay water line but only to the standpipe used by water haulers.
The driver who did not want his name used complained that it takes 20 minutes to a half-hour to fill trucks, which means that even when they get enough water, it cuts into the amount of deliveries they can do in a day.
Boyd had harsh words for the local government because it owes WAPA so much money. He said that because WAPA doesn't have the money, it can't connect the pipe that runs under Pillsbury Sound between St. Thomas and St. John to the St. Thomas distribution system.
For decades, St. John has suffered water shortages this time of year. The rain isn't falling to fill cisterns, and the island is packed with tourists.
While tourists often get blamed for taking longer showers than necessary, Demar said drip irrigation systems are a bigger culprit.
He said there is no way to shut them off, so they run even when it's raining. And he said unless they're spurting water into the air, there is no way to tell if they're malfunctioning.
In addition to the usual drought and seasonal increase in population, Simmonds said that the Westin Resort and Villas also had problems with its reverse osmosis plant. The hotel had to buy water from WAPA, which further reduced the amount available to water haulers.
St. John Administrator Julien Harley said Tuesday there is not enough tank space to store water. However, he said plans are in the works to add 250,000 gallons worth of space to the existing 500,000-gallon tank.
He said that WAPA has been looking for a place to put another tank for several years, but no one wants a big tank in their back yard.
"It would block their view," he said.

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