Drought Forces Puerto Rico to Limit Water Access During Pandemic Response
Still far from recovered from its ravaging by Hurricane María in 2017, Puerto Rico is now struggling under drought conditions, with water woes made worse by financial straits that have prevented its state utility company, PREPA, from dredging critical reservoirs on schedule.
Citing data from the U.S. Drought Monitor, the Associated Press writes that the United States territory has declared a state of emergency as “more than 26% of the island is experiencing a severe drought,” while another 60% faces moderate drought conditions.
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Strict water rationing is now in effect, with some 140,000 residents going “without water for 24 hours every other day,” and significant fines for breaching restrictions on non-essential uses.
As Puerto Rico’s latest water crisis unfolds in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s Water and Sewer Authority is urging residents not to “excessively stockpile” water, and to abide by pandemic protocols (masks and social distancing) when they drop by any of the 23 mobile water stations set up around the island.
Governor Wanda Vázquez’s announcement of a state of emergency “comes amid criticism of her administration for not dredging reservoirs, which would eliminate sediment and avoid excess loss of water,” writes AP. PREPA contends that its efforts to secure a US$300-million investment in dredging technology have been stymied by an onerous approval process laid down by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
AP adds that “the utilities company is restructuring a portion of its multi-billion-dollar debt and had suspended all capital improvement projects, including dredging, as a result of its fiscal woes.”
Climate-driven drought, a floundering utility, and critical reservoirs left to fill up with sediment are not the only factors driving Puerto Rico’s current water crisis, however: according to a federal control board that oversees the territory’s finances, up to 60% of the water produced by the utility is “wasted, lost or stolen,” a problem that may be remedied by the upcoming installation of water meters.