While many St. Croix residents might worry about what has soaked into the ground in the Hovensa watershed, Andres Torizzo, a principal and hydrologist with Watershed Consulting, is worried about what flows off that region and into the ocean.
Torizzo says runoff can be a serious problem in several ways. When the natural way for runoff to go is blocked, it can cause flooding in residential areas. When runoff goes too fast it can carry sediment into the ocean, “smothering habitat.” And when runoff doesn’t run off, it can become a health problem as a breeding ground for bacteria and pathogens.
The Hovensa watershed is one of five watersheds on St. Croix termed critical and the subject of a detailed study this year. Three watersheds on St. Thomas are also termed of “critical concern” and being studied as part of a project funded by a grant secured by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Torizzo made a presentation Wednesday night in a Zoom meeting with about a dozen participants. It was the last in a series of town hall meetings each for a specific watershed during June. The meetings provided residents an opportunity to weigh in on the discussion regarding the impacts of stormwater runoff and flooding the territory.
Along with getting feedback from residents, the team working on the projects has been making assessments in the field, and Torizzo said that assessment of watersheds has found that buildings have obstructed many of the natural flows (guts) for runoff. He said residents have not just built near guts but sometimes in them. He said the time for restoring the natural flow has probably passed and other mitigation methods would be needed. These include such things as making ball fields and public lands better able to store water and sizing drainage more effectively.
Torizzo said the land survey showed over a quarter of the land in the Hovensa watershed was impervious – parking lots, buildings, roads. The Hovensa watershed as he defined it includes just over 8,000 acres, with the refinery site in the middle. He did say there were a lot of areas undeveloped where forest and bush kept runoff at its natural pace.
The project, which is expected to be completed by the end of September, is a team effort including DPNR’s Division of Coastal Zone Management and the V.I. Conservation Society, with Vermont-based Watershed Consulting Associates as the lead contractor.
The final report should, according to Torizzo, “include recommendations for programmatic improvements and physical mitigation solutions or best management practices.”
He told the Source in an email after the meeting, “Funding will have to be pursued for implementing the mitigation measures. But our plan will have the key projects prioritized which will help make them competitive for receiving funding.”
For more information on this project, visit the website www.tinyurl.com/stormwaterUSVI.