Making A Splash In St. Croix

By: Linda Vissat

Saturday, 10:00 a.m.; Bob and Sandy haven't left the pool during waking hours except to refill the refrigerator with beer.  Two hundred and ninety pounds of Bob jumped into the pool creating a wave, sloshed over the deck, and drenched parched agaves below.  By the time we arrived everyone was clamoring, "…don't flush the toilet."  The remaining hundred gallons in the cistern may be all for what remained of vacation.

Nine to twelve mile an hour winds continue in the August heat that helps the 78% humidity index keep the temps around 70 degrees. Ten minute, late night rains tend to leave rain catchments areas agape.  Days are uneventful, except when you run out of water.  Showers can't be taken, food can't be cooked, and toilets, well, go without flushing. 

Water isn't something to take advantage of on the islands.  An average of forty inches of rainfall drops on the semi-arid Virgin Islands annually and ninety percent is lost to evapo-transpiration. Water is scarce.

Jerry and Susie reaffirmed their vows.  It was my first Caribbean wedding and trip to the islands.  I was in a party of eight.  Two of them were Bob.  Debbie, Jerry's daughter and her husband Bob, Sandy, her co-worker and her husband "Big" Bob, Chris and Matt, Debbie's sons; Jerry's grandsons, and myself and daughter, Alyssian.  I was the fifth-wheel and spent my time with the younger set at the Coral Bay Reef Resort about two miles from the other members of the group.  They rented an entire house with a pool.  From that vantage point we could see St. Thomas across the ocean waters when the condensation beyond the reef didn't shroud the view.

On the third day of the visit breakfast was on Deb and Bob.  We drove the rolling hills through the rain forest out to the northern coast and took a sharp right up a steep, winding dirt road to the rental house for the first time.  Brown, pyramid-shaped, shingled rooftops, three total, loomed overhead around the last bend like something out of an Egyptian dream.  The house appeared to float on a cerulean background.  The open door of the "L"-shaped layout beckoned us to enter onto cool tiles.  Contemporary iron and glass furnishings, overstuffed sofas and wicker further bid us to welcome while the stereo played Steve Miller.  I was lulled into a seventies mode.  There were three bedrooms, two of which had open baths with thriving gardens.  A baby grand sat in one of them and many French provincial antiques were scattered around the house.

I wanted to grab a beer and get in the pool.  An empty hose dangled over the side, the cistern top was sitting on the deck and about ten inches of water sat patiently waiting in the bottom.  The pool was half-full.  As the caretakers bantered with Debbie and Bob over the water situation we waited and waited for water delivery. 

We were lucky.  The caretakers lived in the lower apartment.  Without their help the gang would have been dry the next four days unless they chose to flush the beer down the toilet.  The caretakers pointed to a house on southeast hill and told everyone it used to belong to Bill Murray ("Ghost Buster" … Bill Murray).  What an exciting footnote.  We were in the company of celebrities.  They weren't surprised at the pool incident.  It happened before.

On a trip the next day into Christensted on the eastern end of the island, I found a "Traveler's tree.  It is said to store one gallon of water at the base of each frond.  When travelers roamed the islands years ago and found themselves thirsting they could turn to this tree taking solace in it's hidden water supply.  This one is four blocks west of the boardwalk by Rum Runners Steaks & Seafood, known for weekly hermit crab races.

 The population of 50,000 on St. Croix relies on cistern storage and rain catchers of the rare rainfall on this eighty-four square mile island.  Groundwater and desalinization are the main sources of potable water. The daily water demand for this island alone is approximately 3.2 million gallons per day and production is around 4.2 million.  Another half a million comes from groundwater.  Fortunately, twenty-three million gallons of storage capacity exists on the island. 

The entire Virgin Island Territory demands 5.5 million gallons of water.  The desalination plants, according to studies completed as far back as 1979 by the Virgin Islands Water Resources Research Center, can supply about 75% of that demand.  The study also revealed the cost for desalting seawater was at least $15 per thousand gallons.  Further research was completed in l977 when the islands were owned by Britain.  This study with low-flush toilets revealed costs were lower and 36,500 gallons of water were saved as a result in a year.  Although the government pays for the bulk of water received, insures its quality and distributes it, along with land, tax and customs exemptions, costs beyond that fall on the consumer.

Residents and resorts pay about three cents per gallon for water pumped into their cisterns, not including delivery charges and emergency service calls.  Water suppliers request a week notice for water delivery, but no later than three with a surcharge attached.  Some resorts require servicing more than two times a day, dependent on the demand. 

According to an article written by Peter Weber in the November - December 1991 issue of World Watch only the world's elite get their water from the sea!  Serving these "elite" are the world's 7,500 desalting plants that reaches a capacity of 3.9 million acre-feet per year; less than one-tenth of one percent of the world's water use.

Those who don't live on islands take water for granted.  It is quite a conundrum being surrounded by water and experiencing "water scarcity".  Treat yourself and join the "elite" by taking a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands.  But, if you plan to jump in the pool a lot make sure you schedule water delivery ahead of time.  You'll find yourself fortunate to get water without notice and on a weekend, as we did.   

I joined the elite on the cheap; $530 airfare and $250 for a week at the motel.  No passport was needed at the time, but you should prepare, by 2008 you'll need one.  More information on the subject can be found here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A28188-2005Apr5.html 

See this site for an instant webcam.  Set a day and time to be at the boardwalk, tell your friends and family and they can get a live shot of you on the island.

http://www.gotostcroix.com/

More information is available at the following: http://www.doi.gov/oia/StateIsland/chapter5.html 

Water Resources Research, Institute

University of the Virgin Islands

# 2 John Brewers Bay, St. Thomas

U.S. Virgin Islands 00802-9990

Tel. (809) 693-1063. Fax (809) 693-1074.

E-mail: hsmith@uvi.edu

Seven Seas Water Corporation
6200 Frydenhoj, Suite 4
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands 00802
Phone: (340) 775-6607
Fax: (340) 715-0003 

Cane Bay Reef Club

PO Box 1407 Kingshill

St. Croix USVI 00851-1407

(340) 778-2966, 1 (800) 253-8534

Joe Scirto, Owner

Rum Runners Steaks & Seafood
Boardwalk & Caravelle Hotel

ChristianstedArticle Search, U.S. Virgin Islands
(340) 773-6585
www.RumRunnersStCroix.com

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