July 29, 2005 Almost all V.I. point-source pollution — pollution that comes from a specific source can be traced to a failing and overloaded municipal sewage system, indicates a recently released "Testing the Beaches" report by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The report indicates that the number of days advisories were issued by the Planning and Natural Resources Department went up 26 percent in 2004 over the previous year. The number of days stood at 80 in 2003 and 101 in 2004.
It notes that 46 percent of the days beaches were closed or advisories issued were due to known sewage spills. A total of 41 percent were pre-emptive rain advisories, 14 percent were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels from unknown sources of contamination.
Of the beaches closed, St. Croix had the most, with beaches closed 25 times for varying amounts of time. Princess Beach topped the list. It was closed six times and Frederiksted Public Beach was closed five times.
St. Thomas beaches were closed 11 times, with Hull Bay leading the way with three closures.
St. John had one closure at Hart Bay.
The report notes that the sewer systems are failing thanks to lack of funding and negligence by the Public Works Department.
While this is not news to V.I. residents, it could be to potential tourists. A USA Today online story hit the Internet Friday. While it did not mention the Virgin Islands, it provided a link to all the data, including that from the Virgin Islands.
Megan Shoenfelt, director of St. Croix Environmental Association, said while it's good Planning and Natural Resources has a beach monitoring program in place, she noted that the department doesn't post signs to alert swimmers to the problem.
"That troubles me," she said.
She said she's seen people swimming at Condo Row when she knows the sewage treatment plant is having problems.
Aaron Hutchins, Planning's director of Environmental Protection, sees it differently. He said signs are usually posted warning of pollution problems but they are often torn down.
Schoenfelt said it's up to the community to demand that the sewage problem be solved.
Beach closings due to hazardous bacterial contamination are on the rise nationwide, according to the NRDC. The report tallied nearly 20,000 closing and health advisory days across the country in 2004, the most since the agency began tracking the problem 15 years ago. One reason, the group says, is that improved monitoring spurred by previous reports is now uncovering the true extent of the pollution problem.
"Instead of closing our beaches, let's clean up the water," Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC's Clean Water Project said. "Authorities have gotten better at finding the problems. Now they need to stop the pollution at its source by repairing and replacing leaky sewage and septic systems, and cleaning up contaminated runoff."
The section of the report pertaining to the Virgin Islands is based on data from the Planning and Natural Resources Department, which sends out weekly announcements on which, if any, of the 43 beaches it monitors across the territory, flunked its weekly test. The NRDC claims 47 beaches are tested, but Hutchins said some of the 43 beaches have more than one testing site. He said this is probably why the numbers are different.
The federal government paid for the testing program to the tune of $303,350 in 2004. According to the NRDC, the territory should receive $303,310 in 2005.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.