The Water and Power Authority is losing almost half the water it purchases from Seven Seas for St. Croix and the number is not much better on St. Thomas. The figures presented by WAPA at the Public Services Commission meeting Thursday are not new. High-line loss has been a problem for decades, according to Commissioner Andrew Rutnik.
What was new at the meeting was that the PSC approved a water rate hike for residents. The LEAC charge for 1,000 gallons of water will go from $7.82 to $9.53. Commissioner Raymond Williams, during the discussion of WAPA’s rates, said Virgin Islanders were being forced to pay for water produced by Seven Seas that did nothing but go directly into the islands’ aquifers.
When the rate will go into effect is not clear. It could be as early as next month. The approval of the rate hike is contingent on WAPA filing certain reports.
Commissioner Pedro Williams was adamant that WAPA comply with the law passed in 2021 that it file quarterly reports. He said, “The problem in the Virgin Islands is that people don’t want to obey the law.”
Williams is not the only person concerned about WAPA filing legally required reports.
Sen. Kenneth Gittens said Monday that WAPA has failed to comply with the law requiring it to make monthly reports on its efforts to recoup funds spent on its debts to Vitol.
Commission Chairman David Hughes said the requested rate hike was substantial and questioned why it was so.
Jacob Lewis, WAPA’s chief financial officer, said it had a lot to do with WAPA’s contract with Seven Seas Water Corporation.
The price the authority pays to Seven Seas to produce drinking water from seawater is tied to the Consumer Price Index, which has risen along with inflation in the last two years. Lewis said WAPA is in discussions with Seven Seas about how the contract could be renewed when it expires in 2026.
WAPA officials also reported that the authority had received preliminary approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a program that could eliminate the water loss problems on St. Croix. The program would award WAPA around a billion dollars to replace almost all the water storage and distribution systems on St. Croix. Lewis said WAPA is trying to get FEMA to approve a grant for a similar project on St. Thomas.
Williams said, “We have been discussing these same issues for 100 years.”
Rutnik said he believed such projects would take a decade or two before having an effect. He asked if people were working on mitigating water losses, which cost the authority about $3 million a year. He was told they were.
Line loss has plagued both WAPA’s electrical and water departments for decades. The loss comes not only from leaks but also from theft, which was documented in a 2004 Inspector General’s report.
The PSC postponed discussions of new ferry rates until its next meeting.