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FEMA to address water resource recovery after Hurricane Maria

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will discuss water resource damage caused by Hurricane Maria and related landslides during its first water symposium on April 27.

The event, titled “Recovery Strategies for Community Access to Drinking Water and Landslide Mitigation Strategies after Hurricane Maria,” will address sedimentation caused by landslides and the risks it poses to communities.

The virtual symposium is divided into two sessions: problem description and existing and proposed remediation solutions. It aims to provide participants with a “resilient approach to water issues” by examining “the watershed cycle, that is, from the top of the mountain to the ocean or from the downspout to the source.”

The event is open to the public and can be accessed here.

In the agency’s news release, federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator José G. Baquero emphasized FEMA’s priority to incorporate “strategies that consider equity and climate change impacts throughout the recovery process.” The agency, he added, “has recovery projects and strategies that incorporate climate adaptation with a community-wide focus, aiming to strengthen long-term resilience.”

During the conference, FEMA will present recovery projects that promote water access for communities, as well as what it called “nature-based solutions to reduce landslides and long-term maintenance costs.” One example is the community aqueduct in the Los Díaz Sector in San Lorenzo, which “was rebuilt with community participation and bioengineering techniques.” The aqueduct now provides water to more than 80 families.

Geology Prof. Stephen Hughes from the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez Campus will speak at the session. As director of the SLIDES-PR project, Hughes will discuss landslide issues worsened after Hurricane Maria and the collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey to develop an island-wide landslide monitoring network. He will also present strategies to address these challenges in communities.

The SLIDES-PR project involved about 15 students, creating a digital catalog of more than 70,000 landslides that occurred after the historic storm. They developed a high-resolution map to illustrate the susceptibility to future landslides due to heavy rains throughout the island. This information is available here.

The project aims to share the results to help determine the short- and long-term effects of sedimentation from landslides and understand and forecast how future extreme events could impact the environment and society.

The symposium is a series of virtual and in-person events. The next two virtual sessions will take place on June 30 and Aug. 21, covering topics such as sedimentation, flooding, water quality and loss of natural coastal barriers. The symposium will conclude with a focus on water resource management in the face of climate change at an event on Oct. 20.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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