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Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Senator Calls for State of Emergency to Solve Brown Water Crisis on St. Croix

WAPA Chief Executive Officer Andy Smith was pushed by senators Thursday to explain why the brown water situation on St. Croix has not yet improved. (Photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)

At least one senator is lobbying Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. to declare a state of emergency to solve St. Croix’s ongoing brown water crisis — an issue that came to the forefront once again Thursday as V.I. Water and Power Authority officials were asked during a Committee on Disaster Recover, Infrastructure and Planning meeting to explain why the situation hasn’t improved after months of mitigation efforts.

Authority officials have said the brown water has been caused by rusted and aging pipes, drought and an influx of sargassum, along with unexpected large leaks and a recent increase in potable water demand from customers who typically use cisterns, which has caused water tank storage reserves to drop to critical levels.

In a recent news release, WAPA explained that this low water flow also causes an increase in discoloration. A technique called “flushing,” which stirs up materials and deposits in the pipes and clears them out, improving water clarity, is being implemented but officials have also said that since aggressive flushing can also make discoloration worse by lowering water pressure, they also have to make sure the water tank storage levels remain as high as possible.

During Thursday’s Senate meeting, WAPA Executive Director Andy Smith added it would take about $1 billion to replace all the necessary piping on St. Croix, which the authority can’t afford.

The testimony prompted Sen. Samuel Carrión to pen a letter asking the governor to consider declaring a state of emergency so that the problem can be fixed and residents can get some relief.

“It is with a sense of urgency and a deep concern for our residents that I respectfully request you consider declaring a State of Emergency for St. Croix due to the critical water supply and quality issues that we are currently facing,” the senator said in his letter to Bryan. “Water is an essential necessity of life, and the current situation on St. Croix is simply becoming intolerable. The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority is the primary source of water for many of our residents, however, in recent months, both the quality and availability of water are increasingly problematic.”

Carrión also suggested temporarily suspending water bills for residents impacted by the discoloration and setting up water distribution centers on St. Croix to ensure customers’ access to clean water.

“The health and well-being of the island’s residents must remain the utmost priority,” Carrión said. “The water situation on St. Croix demands immediate attention. Continuing to charge ratepayers for brown, smelly, virtually unusable water is simply unconscionable.”

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