The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced an agreement with community and nonprofit organizations to provide sustainable, clean drinking water solutions to citizens in geographically remote parts of Puerto Rico.
At a ceremony in Aguas Buenas, EPA Regional Administrator Pete López and representatives from Por Los Nuestros, Water Mission International, American Red Cross, Puerto Rico Science, Research and Technology Trust, Puerto Rico Community Foundation, OXFAM, and Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will leverage more than $10 million to help small drinking water systems not managed by the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority.
“We have an opportunity now to change decades of communities struggling to bring drinking water to their people, and that is what we are doing today with this energized and powerful partnership of government, nonprofit, and private organizations,” said López.
“The time is now to change the equation and seize this opportunity to transform communities and make these systems more sustainable and resilient,” he said.
Approximately 3 percent of Puerto Rico’s population is served by non-PRASA and unregulated drinking water systems that lack the technical, managerial, and financial capabilities and resources necessary to assure access to reliable and safe drinking water, the EPA stated.
These systems are very vulnerable to disruption in the face of large storm events. In response to Hurricanes Irma and María, government and nonprofits have been working together to bring relief to rural communities, deploying full water treatment systems to communities in need of clean water, repairing damaged systems, providing generators, and in some cases, providing solar power to water treatment systems to achieve operational status.
To date, more than 20 of the 240 non-PRASA systems in Puerto Rico have achieved energy independence over the past year, the agency noted.
EPA is also working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development on bringing a program to Puerto Rico that would provide technical assistants to rural, non-PRASA systems.
The technical assistants, who are contracted with the National Rural Water Association, would be experienced in managing issues that may arise in the day-to-day operations of rural water systems.
The agreement also outlines coordination efforts to be taken by the parties, which include:
- Developing academic projects and programs that investigate sustainable design standards and technologies;
- Establishing adaptation strategies and disaster risk reduction approaches;
- Working with the public and private sectors in sustainable planning, energy and water efficiency and renewable energy, and in delivering safe drinking water;
- Providing technical assistance and training; and,
- Sharing among the parties valuable information, data, research, and experiences that support these efforts.