Whoever ripped wires out of a moisture-monitoring device in Bordeaux early Monday did more than damage federal equipment. The vandalism may have put St. Thomas agriculture at risk.
It took years to get federal agencies to install the precipitation gauge that helps report drought conditions and rainfall patterns used by farmers and Washington, D.C., policymakers, said Christina Chanes, a research specialist at UVI and volunteer drought coordinator. The device is one of just five in the territory and an important tool in reporting conditions used to get federal aid.
“We need to have data to show short- or long-term drought levels,” Chanes said. “I literally wanted to cry when I got the call at 7:45 this morning that it had been damaged.”
Chanes said she and another volunteer were able to reassemble the equipment but wouldn’t know for sure if it was working again until Tuesday morning.
Despite seasonal rains, the Virgin Islands’ protracted drought has punished the agriculture sector. Without data collected by the Bordeaux device and similar equipment, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and federal counterparts can’t make declarations of drought, she said.
“This particular piece of equipment is what is used by the government to tell us whether or not the rain is in fact not happening. It’s required that we register or log the data daily,” Chanes said. “It’s done between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. every day. So it’s huge to be able to have this equipment here but it’s even more important to maintain it.”
Eldridge Thomas, president and founding member of the non-profit We Grow Food, pleaded for Bryan to release $10 million he said was promised for agriculture. The money could be used to build catchments that would save millions of gallons of water from rolling into the sea.
“We need to build storage facilities and store water to use when we have our dry period,” Thomas said. “We need action from like yesterday.”
Chanes and other volunteers had to supply 12 different locations for the monitoring before U.S. Drought Monitors, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other federal agencies would agree to provide the equipment. It was finally installed earlier this year.
“This station in Bordeaux was really hard to get. I’d been working on it since 2018,” she said. “The majority of the farmland that’s allocated by the Department of Agriculture in the Virgin Islands is in Bordeaux. And so without that support we don’t really know what the drought conditions are.”
Chanes said the Virgin Islands Police Department inspected the vandalism. She urged people to leave the monitoring equipment alone.