Some Drought Relief On The Way

Distressed vegetation in need of water on St. Croix in July. (Photo: Rafe Boulon via NOAA)

Weather forecasters call for scattered showers and thunderstorms through Thursday, bringing some relief from cracked, dry conditions across the U.S. Caribbean.

St. John has been especially hard hit, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration labeling the drought as extreme. The rest of the U.S. Virgin Islands and most of Puerto Rico were labeled as in a severe drought in a report released Friday.

Adam Cook, owner of St. John’s Botanica, said many of his clients are taking an extra water truck delivery each week.

“We did have a drop here for 14 weeks,” Cook said. “We’ve been going through 500 gallons a day. Because of the heat, the drought, everything else, we’re probably doing double that.”

The drought, officially declared in 2021, combined with labor shortages, the pandemic, and the high cost of basic utilities, drove Cook’s company out of the plant-growing business, he said.

“I sold nice plants, and I enjoyed it,” he said while watching a thrush devour a nearly-ripe mango. “It’s really tough here for retail. The numbers just don’t make sense.”

This year’s drought is near a historic low set in 2014.

Historically, August to November are the four consecutive months with the highest average rainfall, according to NOAA. The agency speculated drought conditions would improve in all areas of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with the arrival of autumn.

(Photo courtesy of NOAA)

Despite the rain, the report said the territory’s soil and ponds will remain dry, with wells remaining at low levels.

“If the anticipated rains appear, we will likely see the removal of drought conditions for most of Puerto Rico, except for the south-eastern interior region where dry conditions are expected to persist, and improvements in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” according to the report. “All major islands in the USVI are receiving light intermittent rain, and the year has been drier than normal. All islands are also showing signs of short and long-term impacts. High winds are further reducing the amount of moisture in the soil.”

On July 25, President Joe Biden approved an Emergency Declaration for the USVI to supplement the territory’s response efforts to the emergency conditions resulting from a water shortage.

Farmers and ranchers indicated that water prices have increased this year due to increasing gas prices that have impacted pricing for water delivery services. Due to drought conditions, approximately 65 applications have been submitted, and more than 50 livestock farmers across the USVI have received funds from the USDA Livestock Forage Program.