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.
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.”
How the U.S. Drought Monitor Classifies Dry or Drought Conditions
· 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.
· 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."
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.”
Until then, the daily life of Puerto Ricans continues to be affected. Luis Beniquez says, “A day as a Puerto Rican can be full of obstacles due to the need of basic services and infrastructure improvements ongoing on the island after the devastation of the 2017 Hurricane Season. Nothing impacts the quality of life more than the uncertainty of not knowing if water service will return by the time programmed. Stress is an important factor contributing to major health issues that only will get exacerbated by a lack of success in the reestablishment of the Guajataca lake.“
Impacts on Early Childhood Programs and Providers
Iran Rodriguez, President of Region II Head Start Association states, “The water crisis in Puerto Rico not only reminds us of the impact of Hurricane Maria but also of the chronic problems of Infrastructure that remain a part of Puerto Rican life. Lack of water in our Head Start/Child Care centers is not only a health threat but also a violation of health codes and have an impact on licensing.
Head Start and Child Care centers without water can not cook or clean the facility. Without such license the centers will have to close or operate with limited number of hours.
Furthermore, many of our children will further be exposed to the same dangerous conditions at their homes without water or the training necessary to manage such a crisis.
The Region II Head Start Association has already mobilized to contact all affected Head Start and Child Care providers to learn how they are managing this crisis. We are greatly concerned about how Family Day Care providers are managing the crisis.”
The Institute For Childhood Preparedness is proud to partner with the National Environmental Health Association and the Region 2 Head Start Association in our work supporting the Department of Health and the early childhood sector in Puerto Rico. We aim to increase visibility on the location, status, functioning, capacity, and environmental vulnerabilities of early childhood programs and facilities. Visit our Facebook page for updates on the status of our work in the Caribbean.
As of October 23, 2019, we are pleased to announce that the Guajataca Reservoir is up and running! The Engineering News-Record says, "With the threat to the dam’s stability alleviated, the pump system was soon expanded and redeployed to address another dire need—supplying safe drinking water for more than 200,000 citizens. The affected water treatment plants have since been restored to normal operation."