DPNR Expands Beach Monitoring Program

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The V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) will continue to ensure that water at the territory’s beaches is safe, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. DPNR’s Division of Environmental Protection (EP) will be receiving a $303,000 grant, which it will use to expand its beach monitoring program.

“This is a renewal of an existing grant, which has been issued yearly since 2001,” said Aaron Hutchins, DPNR’s EP director. “This is entirely for the V.I. beach monitoring program, and part of that is the water pollution control program.” Weekly Monitoring The beach monitoring program is set up to monitor water quality at the more popular swimming beaches in the V.I. on a weekly basis. DPNR currently tests eight beaches on St. John, and 43 territorywide. Some beaches have more than one testing station, because the beach either is large or includes two distinct swimming areas, Hutchins added. “The intention is to better inform the public of the water quality of the locally administered beaches, and does not include (V.I.) National Park beaches,” the DPNR official said. One of the St. John beaches which EP officials test, however, is located in the V.I. National Park. The water at Francis Bay has been tested by both the VINP and EP since 2001. “It was an oversight and we have been dealing with it ever since,” Hutchins said. “When we initially set up the list of beaches to be tested, we had public meetings, and we had other governmental agencies involved. Francis Bay, for some reason, got on the list of eligible beaches.”

“We decided to keep it going until we found an alternative beach on St. John,” he added.

Alternatives have been slow to come, but some St. John residents have suggested that the water in Coral Bay be tested.

Coral Bay Not Eligible
“Coral Bay doesn’t meet the criteria because there are no popular swimming beaches there,” said Hutchins.

Water samples have to get to the laboratories on St. Thomas or St. Croix for testing within six hours of when the first sample is taken.

“The testing only takes about five minutes,” said Hutchins. “But you have all of the driving time, and of course, on St. John, you have the ferry time.”

EP will add three or four more beaches to the territorywide water quality program this year.

More Beaches To Be Added
“Some of the initial setup costs have been absorbed, so we have more operational budget available,” said Hutchins. “The number of beaches that we test is determined by the balance of the operational budget. This year, we have no capital expense, so the grant can be spent on operations.”

EP will be asking for the public’s input.

“Within the next several months, we will be soliciting feedback for additional beaches to add to our testing,” Hutchins said. “We will also be asking which beaches to take off the list, and which alternate beaches to test. We are always keeping our ears open for alternate beach suggestions.”

EP officials test for the enterococci bacteria, which is a pathogen found in the intestine of warm-blooded animals, and is an indicator of fecal matter in the water.

Strongest Program in Caribbean
“The program, as far as I know, is the most aggressive program in the Caribbean to monitor the beach water,” said Hutchins. “The most aggressive as far as the number of beaches and the frequency of which they are monitored. It enhances our marketability, but we also feel it’s important to protect our beach patrons and have a quality environment.”

Anyone with suggestions for additional beaches to be tested, or an alternate beach to test instead of Francis Bay, should call Hutchins at 773-1082.