Making a Splash in St. Croix – St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Making a Splash in St. Croix

St. Croix U.S. Virgin Islands

Party by the pool that went dry
Party by the pool that went dry
It’s 10 a.m. Bob and Sandy haven’t left the pool during waking hours except to refill the refrigerator with beer. Bob takes another two-hundred-and-ninety-pound jump into the pool. By the time we arrive everyone is clamoring, “…don’t flush the toilet.” The water level in the pool was low. Real low. The cistern held what looked to be a hundred gallons and it’s Saturday.

9-12 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 catchment areas agape.

The 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.

It was my first trip to the Caribbean. Our group was a party of eight; my oldest daughter, Alyssian, her boyfriend, Chris and his brother Matthew, their parents, Bob and Debbie, along with Debbie’s co-worker, Sandy and her husband, “Big” Bob. Jerry, Debbie’s dad, lives on the island with his wife Susie. We attended Jerry and Susie’s reaffirmation of vows in August 2004.

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. 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 Busters” Bill Murray). What an exciting footnote. We were in the company of celebrities. They weren’t surprised at the pool incident. It happened before.

The house was on the market for $950,000.00 and they were going to be out of a job; at least in St. Croix. I understood from the conversation that they did housesitting all over the world and had their next gig all set up.

This house looked well worth the price. It was a grand spread. A Julia Childs’ cookbook printed in 1972 leaned against a French provincial tile backsplash in the open kitchen. Metal shutters hid behind a gigantic curtain of thornless, nopales cacti by the pool ready for any weather attack. Of course, no storms hit while we were there, so “Big” Bob was reprieved from heavy lifting and spent his time playing in the pool.

Huge agaves followed the stone fence surrounding the yard and plants known as “crab and lobster claws” from the Heliconia family added a colorful touch to the back, as well as sprucing up the interior with cuttings. A gazebo lazed near a plant and propagation area out back, and a wicker pod hanging from a huge kapok tree swung in the gentle breeze. Royal and coconut palms swayed helplessly in the scorching sun and the brown grass crunched under my feet. Like lost desert wonderers the plant life choked silently in search of a lost oasis.

On a trip the next day into Christensted on the eastern end of the island, I found a “Travelers Tree” palm. As the story goes, the tree is another source of water on the island. 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 its hidden water supply. This one is four blocks west of the boardwalk by Rum Runners Steaks & Seafood. (Don’t miss this spot for the 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 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.

Crab Race at Rum Runners
Crab Race at Rum Runners
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, completed in l977 when the islands were owned by Britain, had an overall positive affect on costs and water production, proving that one year of operating low-flush toilets saved 36,500 gallons of the precious supply in the Virgin Islands.

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, depending on demand.

Seven Seas Water Corporation is one desalination facility with an office on St. Croix. It serves resorts and other large commercial users. The company was incorporated in 1997 and is now the largest private water supplier in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Some of their clients on St. Croix include The Waves at Cane Bay, Divi Carina Bay, Green Cay Resort and Marina, Harbor View Apartments, The Plantation at Southgate, Golf Club, Southgate Courtyard Villas, and Villa Madeline.

Along with the Red Hook on St. Thomas, these facilities use the MED and VC approach to desalt seawater. MED means multiple-effect distribution and VC means vapor-compression process. These two are similar, but still different, as the following explains.

In multiple-effect, a unit’s steam is condensed on one side of a tube wall while saline water is evaporated on the other side. The heat from the condensation of the steam supplies the energy. Saline is applied to the tubes in a thin film so that it evaporates easily. These units are made of aluminum or other low-cost materials.

The vapor-compression process uses mechanical energy by use of a compressor that draws water vapor from the evaporation chamber. It is condensed on the outsides of tubes in the same chambers. The heat from the condensation evaporates a film of saline water applied to the insides of the tubes inside the chambers. These units put out capacities of less than 100 million per day and often used at resorts. Reverse osmosis has also been used on the islands, but proven not as successful. The government provides land, tax and customs exemptions, pays for the bulk water received, and monitors the quality. It also distributes the water and in some cases provides assistance for plant operation.

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.

Cane Bay Reef Club
Cane Bay Reef Club
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.

More information on desalination is available at the following:

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.

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

Food and Spirits:
Rum Runners Steaks & Seafood
Boardwalk & Caravelle Hotel
Christiansted, U.S. Virgin Islands
(340) 773-6585

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