U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Pete Lopez visited Puerto Rico recently as part of the agency’s “aggressive efforts” to advance recovery from Hurricanes Irma and María, as well as tackle ongoing environmental challenges in the Caribbean.
The trip included participation in forums, with an array of community groups such as the San Juan Bay Estuary program, the Coral Reef Task Force and the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association.
Lopez also met with Commonwealth and local partners to strengthen the partnerships formed during the emergency response and continue the close coordination on recovery efforts, including solid waste management, upgrading drinking water systems and addressing wastewater infrastructure issues.
“Puerto Rico is on the path to recovery from the 2017 hurricanes, but the journey will be a long one,” said Lopez. “EPA is committed to taking that journey with the dedicated community leaders and officials who are essential to a successful recovery.”
“We continue long-term recovery work with the overarching goal of helping Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands communities build capacity and regain their footing,” Lopez said.
“We’re actively working on a multitude of issues, including solid waste, drinking water in small rural communities, stormwater management and resiliency, septic tank replacement, brownfields and workforce development as well as coral reef preservation and protection,” he said.
EPA leads water sector investments and improvements
The agency launched an initiative to help make septic systems more sustainable and resilient. Lopez visited communities and local leaders to discuss improvements, including a new septic system pilot project that evaluated septic tank shortfalls and developed cleanup plans in communities to protect the San Juan Bay Estuary.
Septic systems are used to treat and dispose of relatively small volumes of wastewater, usually from houses and businesses located in suburban and rural locations not served by centralized public sewer systems.
As part of his visit, Lopez attended a collaborative meeting between EPA Region 2 staff and the Puerto Rico Community Foundation to learn about the support being provided in the establishment of a community aqueduct as well as a renewable energy system for a rural community in Toro Negro, Ciales, to provide water and electricity to 14 houses in the community.
The future support provided would include a resilient system for the community that meets regulatory requirements, the agency said.
Following eight months without power, Toro Negro residents built solar microgrids and utilized batteries with the help of the Puerto Rico Community Foundation and SOMOS Solar, achieving its energy independence.
It is the first solar community microgrid project in the history of Puerto Rico registered and certified at the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau.
Meanwhile, during a visit with the Puerto Rico Environmental Committee of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers’ Association Lopez highlighted the U.S. EPA’s 2019 Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions and how companies can inspire others in the manufacturing sector to invest in innovative technologies and business practices that save fuel, cut waste, protect the environment and create jobs.
In September 2017, EPA responded, in partnership with the Puerto Rico and USVI governments and partner federal agencies, to the devastation that Hurricanes Irma and María left in their wakes. EPA deployed a total of more than 700 personnel in its response.
EPA’s emergency response to the hurricanes included a broad array of interventions such as collecting hazardous materials and hazardous waste, assessing wastewater treatment plants and pumping stations; and assessing more than 200 rural, drinking water systems in Puerto Rico, among other steps.