St. Croix Farmers Struggle Amid ‘Extreme’ Drought; Agriculture Commissioner Says Free Water Not Sustainable
The ongoing extreme drought on St. Croix is causing significant challenges for farmers and the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture (VIDOA), as stated by department officials and Commissioner Positive Nelson during a St. Croix Coastal Zone Management (CZM) committee meeting on Tuesday evening.
To address the negative effects of the severe drought, Mr. Nelson mentioned that VIDOA is working on projects to increase water storage capacity. However, he cautioned that the current practice of providing water to farmers free of charge is unsustainable.
At the CZM committee meeting, Mr. Nelson said the Department of Planning and Natural Resources would lead initiatives to deepen and expand several ponds to enhance water catchment, including one located on VIDOA property.
St. Croix faces particularly severe drought conditions, with the island classified as experiencing D3 levels of drought, the second most intense category on the U.S. drought classification scale. In contrast, St. Thomas has been assessed as facing D1, the least intense level.
Some farmers have attempted to dig their own wells to access sufficient water, but these efforts have often fallen short, leading farmers to continue using VIDOA wells. Although VIDOA currently provides water free of charge and continues to make water truck deliveries, Mr. Nelson warned that maintaining a continuous free supply of water for irrigation is not viable.
He suggested that water in community gardens be metered to instill discipline and accountability among farmers using the resource. This approach, he argued, would help manage and facilitate water usage more effectively.