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Months After Hurricane Maria: Droughts and Water Shortages

Updated: Nov 4, 2019

Puerto Rico has not recovered from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Life is far from getting back to normal, and the impacts of the hurricane still linger. Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans are currently experiencing water shortages. Governor Ricardo Rossello said, “Seven municipalities in the island’s northwest region could be without water for up to 24 hours at a time.” In fact, some communities are experiencing 48-72 hours without drinking water.

· Federal officials said 76% of Puerto Rico is experiencing abnormally dry conditions. 8% is in a moderate drought.

· 220,000 people are feeling the effects of a drought.

. Lack of drinking water is one issue among many that Puerto Ricans face on a daily basis.

What’s Causing the Water Shortage?

The Guajataca Reservoir is a large local provider of drinking water. It was severely damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017. The Army Corp of Engineers has drained the lake to make water storage improvements. The Reservoir’s completion date isn’t until early May. This, compounded with the drought, has caused major water shortages. Our Disaster Project Coordinator, Luis Beniquez, is only getting water every other day.

Guajataca Reservoir before Hurricane Maria

As of February 20th, 2019 the towns of Aguada, Aguadilla, Camuy, Isabela, Moca, Quebradillas and the Puntas de Rincon neighborhood will be supplied with water rationing from the dam.

· A rationing plan that includes service interruptions has been implemented.

· In coordination with the mayors of various municipalities, 220,000 people will receive water rations.

· Some areas will alternate rationings. These areas will have suspended water service for 24 hours at a time.

· The U.S. Drought Monitor says 46 municipalities have been abnormally dry, and another 15 face a moderate drought.

· Blame is being placed on PR’s government, Usace, Prepa, and Prasa. The mayor of Isabela, Carlos Delgado Altieri said, “Usace continued to extract water from the reservoir to the Guajataca River, without anticipating that levels were falling quickly.”

Rossello says, “For the government, it is important that our people enjoy drinking water service with the greatest possible continuity. This is why we will take action now to make operational adjustments to the Guajataca reservoir and thus avoid that the situation worsens.”

Guajataca Reservoir after Hurricane Maria

How the U.S. Drought Monitor Classifies Dry or Drought Conditions

Abnormally Dry

· Abnormally dry areas are not in a drought.

· Areas experience short-term dryness.

· Slows planting and the growth of crops or pastures. This could turn into a drought.

· Lingering water deficits.

· Pastures and crops may not fully recover when coming out of a drought.

Moderate Drought

· Dry period that can damage crops and pastures.

· Low streams, reservoirs, or wells.

· Water shortages develop or become imminent.

· Voluntary water-use restrictions are requested.

Eli Diaz Atienza is the executive president of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority. He says, “After Hurricane Maria, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has been carrying out work to remedy the damage sustained by the Guajataca Reservoir. However, little precipitation is in the forecast. Despite the adjustments and the reduction of significant extractions that Prasa has made to avoid that the service of subscribers is affected, the levels the reservoir reflect today require that these adjustments be made operational.”

Essentially, it is up to “the rains of March” to determine whether this crisis worsens or improves.

"The reported conditions are deeply worrisome" said National Environmental Health Association Executive Director, Dr. David Dyjack. "Dry conditions encourage disease carrying rodents to seek food and water in people's homes, while ironically, at the same time, there is less water to wash hands, a known risk factor for many childhood diseases."

Creating Solutions

The Office of Central Recovery and Reconstruction stated that several water projects are underway. The hope is to eliminate water deficits in Puerto Rico.

· Floating pumps and improvements to the water intakes of the Guajataca and Carraizo Reservoirs.

· The intake of raw water.

· Expansion of the Culebrinas River.

· The removal of sediment from Lake Aguadilla.

· Dredging the Patilla, La Plata, and Dos Bocas Reservoirs.

The Guajataca Reservoir is due to be completed in May. Jose Ortiz Vazquez, director of Prasa, says, “It should be able to return to 194 meters and store more water for the benefit of the affected customers.”