A host of officials from various government departments and agencies convened on Thursday to meet with journalists regarding the water emergency on St. Croix, seeking to provide clarity on the concerning, yet highly technical situation.
One question from the Consortium was why, despite years of "brown water" complaints from residents, authorities only recently decided to conduct testing to investigate the phenomenon. Noel Hodge, the Water and Power Authority's director of water distribution, said that it was a surge in the discoloration issue over the summer that prompted the probe. Having already begun to replace old metal piping with non-corrosive PVC pipes, that surge in complaints, attributed to the sargassum influx and drought that severely restricted the flow of water on St. Croix, "made us take a second look," said Mr. Hodge.
WAPA, together with the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency, then jointly decided to conduct the additional testing that found the heavy metal contamination.
However, WAPA officials continued to stress that the lead and copper contamination found in several water samples weeks ago was an isolated issue, despite an islandwide no-drink advisory for St. Croix that was issued by the EPA out of "an abundance of caution," according to Austin Callwood, director of environmental protection at DPNR.
Following queries to ascertain just how long this problem could have been occurring, WAPA CEO Andrew Smith explained that the most recent testing for compliance with federal drinking water standards was conducted in September of this year, with 97 percent of those samples (from the taps of consumers) meeting the standard. The EPA, Mr. Smith said, requires 90 percent of samples taken for compliance testing meet federal standards, and thus WAPA, at least in September, was above that threshold.