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Some V.I. Beaches Not Safe for Swimming

Sept. 17, 2004 — In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Jeanne, the Planning and Natural Resources Department tested the water quality at 17 beaches around St. Croix and advised the public to avoid all of them but five — Buccaneer Beach, Duggan's Reef Beach, Divi Beach, Gentle Winds Beach and Cormorant Beach.
The government is in the process of evaluating beach water quality in St. Thomas. A full update on the beach water quality at popular swimming beaches will be available on Monday, Sept. 20, a department release said.
According to the release, the St. Croix sewer system continues to experience difficulty in pumping the excessive flows caused by the heavy rainfall. The Lagoon Street Pump Station in Frederiksted and the Figtree Pump Station are operating on backup systems and are not currently bypassing (no sewage in the St.Thomas-St. John District is bypassing processing either).
However, the LBJ Pump Station in Christiansted is hydraulically overloaded and to alleviate the problem, some sewage is being pumped over Long Reef in Christiansted. This is an effort to lower the water level below manhole levels in the Christiansted area, according to the release.
"Obviously, the speed in which wastewater is properly treated and not bypassed is critical from a public-health standpoint and also the extreme impact occurring to the coastal waters and surrounding coral reef system," Megan Shoenfelt, executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association, said.
In a statement issued Friday, she also urged the government to look into innovative ways to keep these problems from reoccurring. She advocates possibly using wetlands in a renovated sewage system.
Her statement said, "As the court mandated repairs are being made to the islands sewer system, there are still opportunities to incorporate some significant and innovative improvements to the system. We want to encourage the Waste Management Authority and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency to try subsurface constructed wetlands as part of the planned system renovation.
"A constructed wetland would have the ability to handle and successfully treat the large volume of wastewater from significant rainfall events, even typical hurricane conditions, without the bypass situations we are currently experiencing. This economical and reliable technology has been designed and tested in tropical communities throughout the world for over 20 years and its application for St. Croix should be considered.
"It would be a shame to reinstall the traditional system so soon to be obsolete with all its inherent problems: expensive and long-term maintenance requirements, subject to frequent bypass events and still not get adequate and consistent water quality results."
The St. Croix beaches the DPNR release said would be unhealthy for any recreational activities are Rainbow Beach, Frederiksted Beach, Dorsch Beach, Halfpenny Beach, Cramer's Park Beach, Shoy's Beach, Little Bay Beach, Altona Lagoon Beach, Condo Row (Mill Harbor) Beach, Columbus Landing Beach and Cane Bay Beach.
DPNR is also advising parents to instruct their children to keep away from the beaches that failed water-quality tests, as well as areas with manholes and storm water flooding.
"There may be an elevated health risk to anyone swimming in these areas as a result of an increased concentration of bacteria. All persons should also be aware that storm-water runoff may also contain contaminants or pollutants harmful to human health and therefore all persons should avoid areas of storm-water runoff — guts, puddles, and drainage basins," the release said.
The St. Thomas beaches to be tested and reported on Monday include Magens Bay, John Brewers Bay Beach, Lindbergh Bay Beach, Vessup Beach, Cowpet Bay West Beach, Hull Bay Beach, Coki Point Beach and Morningstar Beach.
For information regarding water quality, drinking water or air pollution concerns call the Division of Environmental Protection at 773-1082 or the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency at 773-2244. For information on the St. Croix Environmental Association call 773-1989.

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