Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Virgin Islands


Boaters Contribute to Water Quality -
Education Leads to Better Marine Sanitation Practices

High bacterial counts have been detected in some bays in the Virgin Islands, especially in those with a large concentration of boats and boating berths. The contamination is partly the result of sewage and wastewater discharges from the boats, particularly from "live-on- board" vessels.

To address this problem, section 319 funds and a grant authorized under the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Clean Vessel Act were used to cost-share the installation of vessel waste pump- out facilities at key marinas. The effort is managed by the University of the Virgin Islands-Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service, part of the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program. Six marinas on St. Thomas and one on St. Croix have already installed pump-outs through this program, or will in the near future. Several other marinas are expected to install pump-outs within a year.

As soon as pump-outs are readily available, local and federal regulations prohibiting the release of untreated wastewater can be enforced. A revision of the Islands' principal legislation related to boat sewage discharges, namely, the Vessel Mooring and Anchoring Rules and Regulations, is underway. The new law will require that live-on-board vessels be berthed only at facilities with connections to sewage pump-outs. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Islands' principal environmental agency are stepping up marine sanitary device enforcement in areas where the pump-outs are now available.

The Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service will use future section 319 funds to educate the boating public. The curriculum will include information on the location of pump-out facilities and the rules governing marine sanitary devices and boat sewage discharges. This project will not only help boaters comply with regulations, it will also lead to significantly improved water quality in the coastal waters and bays most visited by boaters.

The Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources is presently performing quarterly ambient water monitoring for fecal coliform. This quarterly testing will be expanded to include turbidity and total Kjeldahl nitrogen to provide a preliminary assessment on the quality of water and the effectiveness of the pump-out facility.

CONTACT: Syed A. Syedali
Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources
(809) 773-0565

Erosion and Sedimentation on St. John - For Virgin Islanders, Knowledge is Action

Over half of St. John island, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is a national park. The physical layout of the island is a combination of short, steep slopes terminating in sensitive wetlands and marine environments; this makes it susceptible to damage from even slight increases in erosion. Working in conjunction with federal and local agencies, and with partial funding provided through the section 319 nonpoint source management program, the islanders recently began an investigation to assess the complex runoff processes affecting the park.

The project began in 1994 with the Virgin Island Department of Planning as the lead agency. Citizen groups, such as Fish Bay Homeowners Association and the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park; other local organizations, such as the Virgin Islands Resources Management Cooperative, the Island Resources Foundation, and the Virgin Islands Resource Conservation and Development Council, were also involved. They provided critical local contacts, disseminated information, and helped assure that problem definitions and solutions were crafted to fit local values and customs.

A number of federal and local agencies and private interests from outside the islands supported the project some with additional funding, others with technical or research assets. Among them:

  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service,
  • National Park Service,
  • USGS Biological Resources Division, and
  • Colorado State University's Watershed Sciences Program.

Rainfall on roadways

Roads cut into the hillsides have several impacts on runoff processes with direct implications on water quality. First, roads contribute to overland surface runoff in even the smallest storms. Investigation has shown that while undisturbed areas may saturate and yield runoff in perhaps 5 percent of rainfall events during the year, roads contribute to runoff as a result of 70 percent of annual rainfall events. Landscape with many roads is hydrologically more active than one with few roads.

Second, unpaved roads erode severely. The study documented road surface erosion of a centimeter a year, delivering in the case of one catchment some 400 metric tons of sediment to the mangrove swamps and bays. Surface water yields of up to 30 percent of rainfall have been measured on unpaved roads with suspended sediment loads of up to 60,000 parts per million.

Third, road cuts of one to two meters into the hillside intercept the slow moving subsurface water and route it onto the road as surface water. This water, in turn, causes additional erosion. After extended periods of rainfall, the cuts intercepting the subsurface flow become saturated and slump onto the roadway, which compounds the problem.

Changing practices

Armed with this better understanding of how surface runoff works, local homeowners, machine operators, politicians, and government officials began crafting acceptable and economical solutions that address the complex problem. Their first decisive action involved retrofitting the island's roads. Spaced drains and roads sloped to the downhill side have been installed to allow small volumes of water to reinfiltrate into the soil. Synthetic mulch is being demonstrated at different construction sites as a cover that prevents the exposed earth from eroding.

Additional solutions will come as new methods of road layout are analyzed and used to replace the outdated practice of connecting roads directly to gutters. Different low-cost retaining wall structures are being investigated to stabilize steep road switchbacks. Porous paving has also been proposed, and investigations are underway to determine which native shrub and grass species should be planted to help stabilize roads cut into the hillslopes. The plants should not only anchor the substrate; they should also increase transpiration, helping to minimize the extent of saturation. The Fish Bay Homeowners Association has responded to their new understanding of the problem by paving several kilometers of roads in the last three years.

A common problem

The problem the St. John islanders confronted is a common one on the Virgin Islands. Sediment from dirt roads, farmland, construction sites, urban encroachments, and other disturbed soils is the primary nonpoint source pollutant threatening the Islands' water resources. Eroded sediment buries coral reefs and seagrass beds, clouds the water, impairs fish feeding and breeding sites, and impacts recreational activities. In sum, sediment and erosion destroy natural resources, reduce the income and attractiveness of the tourist industry, and damage the territory's fishing industry.

The Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the Islands' Non- point Source Committee are successfully using a multifaceted education and outreach approach to address this severe water quality problem. Workshops sponsored by the University of the Virgin Islands-Cooperative Extension Service help regulators, developers, and the general public better perceive the challenge that erosion and sedimentation present.

Newspaper articles inspired by committee members have widely publicized the erosion and sedimentation problem and the resources available to help reduce its magnitude. The Third Annual Virgin Islands Nonpoint Source Conference in November 1996, highlighted innovative methods for reducing erosion and featured the first-ever trade show of erosion and sediment control products in the territory. More than 90 percent of those participating indicated that they would implement at least one practice presented at the conference.

CONTACT: Syed A. Syedali
Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources
(809) 773-0565

Jump to main content.