Drought Conditions Likely to Continue for Awhile

Nothing much but brown from Tutu to the sea. (Walter Bostwick photo)
Aloe plants require far less water than crops, but nevertheless are losing the drought battle. (sap photo)
Aloe plants require far less water than crops, but nevertheless are losing the drought battle. (sap photo)

Trees, plants and pocketbooks are withering under the clear, dry skies of the Virgin Islands.

Water trucks grind their way up the steep hills of St. Thomas, as residents’ cisterns run dry.

“We had to buy water for the first time, ever,” said Northside resident Elisa Bryan, attributing her heretofore good fortune to the “enormous” cistern in the house her parents built.

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And while the chatter on the streets suggests many in the community are in Bryan’s position, it’s always the farmers who suffer the most.

“It’s a serious drought going on right now, ” according to Benita Samuel.

Samuel, a long-time Bordeaux farmer, lamented,“Our pond is almost empty,” adding that this drought started earlier than the 2015 event that lasted for months destroying crops and livestock.

Meteorologist Gabriel Lojero from the San Juan National Weather center agreed Wednesday.

“Yes, it’s true,” he said, “we’re in a drought.”

And not just in the Virgin Islands.

“It’s the same here in Puerto Rico,” he said.

Lojero said it’s due to a weak El Nino system that affects weather worldwide.

“In the Caribbean it tends to make conditions drier than normal.”

On St. Croix, brush fires have broken out on the South Shore due to the dry conditions exacerbated by invasive underbrush, according to Nicole Angeli, acting director of Planningand Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife.

“In the Virgin Islands our wildlife is both flora and fauna,” she said.

The fires directly affect seed beds, and cause loss of soil bacteria. Additionally she said, “We are really concerned about some of the rare species on South Shore.”

ArtFarm LLC has been particularly hard hit, losing more than half its acreage to the brush fires, according to its website.

The drought, coupled with the fires, caused owners Luca and Christina Gasperi to close the farm three months early, their blog stated.

The ArtFarm website shows this image with the message, 'In stark contrast to the usual photos we post of the farm, here is the current reality.'
The ArtFarm website shows this image with the message, ‘In stark contrast to the usual photos we post of the farm, here is the current reality.’

“These extreme dry conditions mean that the same head of lettuce will grow much more slowly, only get half as large, and require much more water. If we are in for another drought like we had in 2015, we have to conserve some water for firefighting and to keep our fruit trees and animals alive.”

In an attempt to put a positive note on the dramatically negative effects of the drought, Angeli said the fires provided an opportunity to get rid of the invasive “tan-tan” underbrush and to plant native species in its place.

But, she added, the fires are frightening.

Lojero also tried to hold out a little hope. He said, though the El Nino effect will be in place for the rest of the spring and summer, it is “pretty weak,” adding that prior experience suggested the possibility of wetter conditions on the horizon, maybe as soon as next week.

“But it’s still an uncertainty five to seven days out.,” he said.

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