Government officials updated the public on upcoming tropical weather and steps being taken to alleviate the brown water some St. Croix residents are experiencing from V.I. Water and Power Authority sources at Monday’s Government House press conference.
While Hurricane Lee, still a Category 4 storm, is north of the islands, Daryl Jaschen, executive director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, pointed out the territory will experience rip currents and “life-threatening” 6-10 foot seas for a few days — especially the East End of St. Croix and north shores of St. Thomas and St. John. He said to expect beaches to be eroded due to the swells.
Jaschen said there is another named storm, Margo, and the possibility of two more moving off the coast of Africa. Next week, experts will be able to track and predict the new systems more accurately.
“The formation, as of this morning, for the next 48 hours, is low at 10 percent and for the next seven days is low at 10 percent,” but the second system is expected to gradually develop, he said, and a tropical depression could form by the weekend.
“For the next 48 hours, the development is low at zero percent. However, for the next seven days, it is called “medium” with 60 percent,” he said, adding that both systems are far away from the territory.
This week, residents should watch for dehydration and heat stroke as the weather will continue to be hot and humid, Jaschen said. Shade, water, air conditioning and rests should be used to avoid overheating for people and pets. Anyone suspecting heat stroke should call 911 immediately, the director warned.
Andrew Smith, WAPA chief executive, gave several reasons for the brown and sometimes foul-smelling water St. Croix residents are complaining about. He said the ongoing problem — “aging infrastructure” — will take “20 years or more” to completely revamp. The system is 60 years old with almost 200 miles of pipes. It will eventually be rebuilt with FEMA funding, he said.
Until the rusty, aging pipes and equipment can be replaced, the problem will be made worse by slow water flow due to a drought like St. Croix is currently experiencing. The equipment that has rusted affects the water as well as water flowing slowly through the system, Smith said.
Also, because WAPA water is gravity-fed, people at the ends of the lines or at higher elevations are more likely to see brown water, Smith added.
One way WAPA is combating this challenge for customers at the ends of the water system is by engineering lines to loop back into the system, eliminating dead ends in the future, he said.
Another issue that intensifies cloudy water is the recent drought — when tanks are only half full, pressure drops and the water moves more slowly.
“The iron in the water, in of itself, is not a safety hazard,” Smith said.
Smith said “flushing” can help but is difficult with low water reserves. The worst areas are scheduled for flushing: Williams Delight, White Lady, La Grange Plantation, Grove Fire Station, Whim, Mon Bijou, Catherine’s Rest and Mt. Pleasant. Also, Tide Village, Louis Brown Villas, Strand Street, Hannah’s Rest, Estate Strawberry, Sion Farm, Croixville Apartments and La Grande Princess.
“The prioritization has not changed. But, the amount of flushing that can be performed is limited by currently unusually low water inventories,” the CEO said.
According to Smith, the odor is caused by sargassum that has broken down to the point that the microscopic particles flow into the Seven Seas desalination plant. WAPA does not have the equipment to eliminate it, he added. The water is tested frequently as it exits the plant and “passes EPA standard water quality regulations.”
Richard Motta, the Government House communications director, began Monday’s media briefing speaking about the bombing of the Twin Towers and the heroism of responders in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. Motta also announced the reopening of the Elaine Ione Sprauve Public Library this week and the Florence Williams Library in October.