Clean water regulations and water pollution permitting rules in the U.S. Virgin Islands are being updated, expanded to cover inland waters. That will change the rules for discharge permits and the types of tests done, and create new standards.
Anita Nibbs, the environmental program manager with Planning and Natural Resource’s division of environmental protection, went through the proposed changes Friday at a public hearing on St. Croix, following a hearing Thursday on St. Thomas.
The federal Clean Water Act and the federal Environmental Protection Agency require states and territories review and, if necessary, update their clean water regulations every three years, Nibbs said.
Details, including new numerical standards for "turbidity" or water cloudiness, in inland waters, have yet to be finalized, and her division is still in the process of doing the research and testing to do so, she said.
"I think some people are getting panicked," about the new standards," Nibbs said. "I want to reassure the public and business owners that we will be working with the community to make recommendations on testing standards."
The new rules include temperature and turbidity standards for coastal waters with coral reefs. Anyone discharging into the sea must keep the temperature of discharge to no more than one degree Celsius above the ambient ocean temperature, and must not under any circumstances exceed 25 to 29 degrees Celsius, or about 77 to 84.2 degrees Fahrenheit.
Around coral reefs, turbidity will be limited to one "nephelometric turbidity unit," which is a standard measure of water cloudiness. Some areas in the territory will be exempt from the rule because they exceed that fairly strict level naturally, Nibbs said.
The new standards will also cover inland waters, regulated as a new "class I" of regulated waters. Those waters include saline, brackish and fresh water, in man-made agricultural ponds, natural and man-made guts, ancient salt ponds and others, so regulations and standards will need to vary according to the type and location of the waters, she said.
"You can’t have the same turbidity standards for a salt pond or agricultural pond as for the sea, because a salt pond is naturally more cloudy," Nibbs said. Standards for dissolved oxygen and other metrics need to be adjusted too, to take into account the differing environments, she said.
DPNR will take comments on the new regulations until April 7. The regulations should be finalized by September, at which point they will be sent to Gov. John deJongh Jr. and will be enacted with his signature.
Comments can be sent to Commissioner Alicia Barnes, at 45 Mars Hill, Frederiksted, St. Croix, VI 00841; or 8100 Lindberg Bay, Ste. No. 61, Cyril E. King Airport, Terminal Bldg., Second Floor, St. Thomas, V.I. 00802.
More information can be obtained by calling 1-340-773-1082 on St. Croix or 1-340-774-3320 on St. Thomas.