Polluting bodies of water deserves punishment

The negative impact of global warming, coupled with the damage that human behavior causes to water sources in Puerto Rico, marks the urgency to better protecting a vital resource with an accelerated decreasing availability throughout the planet.

The contamination reported a few days ago in the Río Camuy, the third-largest underground river in the world represents the latest damage known to local resources of high ecological value due to practices that threaten the supply of drinking water and with a costly mitigation process.

According to the government, people crossing on four-wheel-drive vehicles in an area near the Hatillo-Camuy filtration plant left a high concentration of oil in the river, forcing to interrupt the service for 90,000 customers of the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) to clean and protect the facilities.  

The regrettable event reflects that it is urgent to raise awareness of the value of our water resources to stop activities that pollute rivers, streams, and beaches. Education will be a key tool to reverse these practices. But in the short term, those who threaten our ecosystems must be penalized. Dumping garbage, scrap metal, and oil near water basins and in water bodies causes severe pollution.  

In the short term, it will be crucial that authorities steer projects to dredge the dams, which have lost storage capacity due to high sedimentation levels. Deficiencies lead to precarious conditions in reservoirs, especially in drought periods, such as this one, when low levels in the Carraízo, Toa Vaca and Cidra facilities could force to the rationing of drinking water for thousands of families.

To help promote the stability of water bodies, the government, environmental organizations, and the entire population must also be part of a broad reforestation project, following the loss of 144 million trees during the 2017 hurricanes. Planting will make it possible to regenerate the eroded lakes and rivers that today show barren soils.

Meanwhile, it is urgent to renovate PRASA's distribution infrastructure to stop the loss of treated water. Estimates point to a loss of 380 million gallons daily due to leaks in pipes, canals, and tanks. This figure represents about 60 percent of the production to serve 1.3 million customers. The global standard for efficient systems is a 17 percent loss in daily generation.

Strengthening the infrastructure of water storage, processing, and supply is highly relevant before factors that are difficult to control, such as those related to global warming. In this sense, sustained sea level rise impacts aquifers in different areas. In Puerto Rico, the phenomenon can be seen in the Acuífero del Sur, which already shows partial salinity of the water. This source is key for agricultural activities and to supply partof the southwest region.

Wise domestic consumption becomes essential given this challenging scenario. Installing regulating devices on taps and opting for home-made cisterns that feed on rainwater represent sensible solutions. Today, more than ever, having clean water is crucial to follow frequent cleaning measures intended to fight the spread of the COVID-19 and to guarantee the quality of life and health of our families.  

In Puerto Rico, it becomes important that we look at other places in the world living in precarious conditions due to severe water shortage. In densely populated countries like India and in neighboring communities like Haití and Venezuela, the situation affects millions of people. Puerto Rico must act to protect this limited essential resource so necessary for economic activity and for the well-being of our families. With education and other measures promoting the conservation and prudent use of water, we will also pave the way for our sustainable development.

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