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Senator Allison DeGazon has been working on a measure calling for the clearing of ponds in the territory, the senator told The Consortium this week. The potential benefits of such a bill include flood mitigation and the provision of much-needed water for farmers and their livestock, among other upsides.
According to Ms. DeGazon, the bill is a stormwater management plan, and it mandates that the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture identify and clear existing ponds in the territory, beginning with five on St. Croix and two on St. Thomas.
The measure is expected to be before relevant committees soon. “We are hoping that for the next session this will be one of the bills that we will hear,” Ms. DeGazon said.
She said the water management bill is important because it turns water back into a resource and not a nuisance. “It stops the runoff into the streets and into the neighborhoods that’s causing safety and flooding hazards, and directs the water back to the ponds,” the freshman senator said.
The ponds already exist, but they have to be rehabilitated. “It has to be determined which ones will be lined, and which ones the water will be allowed to accumulate and sip. The whole point is we need to recharge the aquifers, which will make our wells more productive and reduce the salt water that goes to the well,” she said.
Being a farmer herself, Ms. DeGazon said part of the bill’s mandate sees work being done to create systems at locations where farmers could collect free water. The senator also made known that focus will be placed on the ponds that are the easiest to dig and get operational first.
The measure will be funded in part through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservative Service program. The idea of water management also aligns with Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett’s efforts in securing federal dollars for water mitigation projects, according to Ms. DeGazon, who told The Consortium that her office recently met with Ms. Plaskett to discuss the matter.
Ms. DeGazon is also hoping that her colleagues will join the effort by supporting the allocation of additional local funds in the 2020 Department of Agriculture budget to supplement federal dollars. “We had already planned on increasing the Agriculture budget slowly to get to the point where it’s 1 percent of the budget, so we knew that we were going to be appropriating money,” she said, noting that lawmakers would first meet with the Department of Finance to understand the options.
To that end, the measure’s usefulness will not take effect and see potential results until 2020, when it will most likely get its first test during the hurricane season. This year, D.P.N.R. and D.O.A. will gather important data during the hurricane season — including locating the ponds and determining costs — which Ms. DeGazon said will inform decisions such as expense.
The bill will call for $50,000 to be set aside for work on each pond, the senator said, a tentative amount she stressed could change based on final findings.
“Agriculture remains an important part of my platform, and as the chair for the Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture, my focus currently is to get the infrastructure up — which includes getting water to the farms — before we can have any major conversations about agriculture,” Ms. DeGazon said.
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