In an effort to stave off any delays in the V.I. Water and Power Authority’s response to the ongoing St. Croix potable water quality crisis, the authority’s board members voted Monday to increase Chief Executive Officer Andy Smith’s purchasing or spending power from $750,000 to $5 million.
In the most immediate term, as WAPA is still testing, the added authorization won’t be used right away, Smith said in an interview with the Source after the meeting. What it will help with, most likely in the next 60-90 days, is getting a couple of solutions off the ground, including replacing materials, like meters, or adding additional treatment capacity, he said.
One of the solutions, for example, is changing the water treatment chemicals on St. Croix, Smith explained. Because the district’s system is much larger than that of St. Thomas, WAPA would be working with Planning and Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency to possibly inject chemicals at multiple points instead of just the source of production.
If it’s determined that’s what the authority should do, then Smith said he could place an order without having to convene a board meeting. He noted, however, that the added financial authority is specifically limited to the water quality issues and nothing else.
Further, anyone drawing samples from the test sites needs to be EPA-certified and depending on how much testing needs to be done — and the timeline around it — it may be necessary to mobilize an off-island team that could get here and be done within 48 hours, he said.
“We wouldn’t know the cost of that at this time, but the authorization would help in the timeliness of the response,” Smith said, adding that he would have to report to the board weekly on the efforts.
In the next week to two weeks, WAPA is still focused on doing a background analysis of the problem and determining what the next steps are. More broadly, though, the authorization could help the authority if it’s determined there are sections of the system that need to be replaced; place a quick order instead of waiting the three to four months needed to get board approval and have the parts delivered, Smith said.
Early Monday, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. declared a local State of Emergency for the potable water system on St. Croix as the first step in seeking a national emergency designation by President Joe Biden to address the high levels of lead and copper first discovered in parts of the island’s water supply after testing in late September.
A territorial declaration of emergency gives the V.I. government access to local funding to help with the crisis and the ability to freeze prices on commodities such as bottled water, said Bryan, who has directed the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department to do so for drinking water, water truck haulers, and water filtration products on St. Croix.
Notably, it will bring financial and technical support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Health and Human Services, which have already been lending their expertise to the problem, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is aiding the V.I. Health Department with its response to those who fear impacts from the lead and copper, said Bryan.