Nov. 21, 2003 – Testing in the aftermath of recent heavy rains has determined that the water at most of the territory's beaches now meets V.I. environmental quality standards, but some areas still are unsafe, according to Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett.
The department's Environmental Protection Division has been testing the water at the beaches since Nov. 18, Plaskett said in an advisory issued on Friday.
A Thursday advisory had stated that water samples from most St. Thomas beaches had been tested and found to be in compliance with the standards, but that water at Bolongo Bay and Hull Bay showed unacceptable levels of contaminants.
Friday's update said that seven sites "have been re-tested and now meet V.I. water quality standards" for swimming and fishing: Cane Bay Beach, Columbus Landing Beach and the Gallows Bay fishing pier on St. Croix; Hull Bay on St. Thomas; Cruz Bay Beach and Great Cruz Bay Beach on St. John; and Honeymoon Beach on Water Island.
Torrential rains over the last two weeks have saturated the soil, creating runoff that in some areas contains debris from flooded septic tanks and sewage systems that can end up in guts and drainage systems and eventually flow into the ocean.
Of particular concern after such sustained downpours is contamination by fecal coliform
bacteria, which can cause diseases, and the enterocci pathogen, which can cause a variety of infections, most commonly in the urinary tract and bloodstream.
Mary Lou Coulston, owner of Ocean Systems Laboratory on St. Croix, one of the local water-testing labs used by DPNR, said that these are the most common kinds of harmful matter found in the water after there has been flooding.
"Many of the septic tanks and leach fields here are not able to sustain such prolonged and intense rain," Coulston said. "The contents can end up running down the hillsides into the water."
The DPNR advisory noted that because any stormwater runoff can contain contaminants, people should avoid guts, puddles, drainage basins and other collected pools of water, as well as the impacted beaches.
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