Funding water infrastructure projects in different communities in Puerto Rico could translate into substantial improvements in the quality of life of thousands of families lacking proper drinking water and sewerage services.
The first phase, in five municipalities, would be financed with $ 20 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that were released after three years on hold. The total amount that had been stopped reaches $ 195 million, so it is likely that the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (FAFAA) will announce other projects. They anticipate a second that represent a $ 33 million investment.
These water projects must support post-hurricane recovery works and a comprehensive intervention for the transformation of the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) systems, at no cost for this corporation. The goal is to reach higher levels of operation and resilience to climatic events.
Most of the funds, granted mostly as very low interest loans, will be used for planning, design and construction of sewage systems and wastewater treatment. La Playa, in Patillas; Hevia, in Naranjito; Villa Nueva, in Caguas, and Buena Vista and San Ciprián, in the Cantera Península are the communities that will benefit from this project. The San Juan Bay Estuario project will be able to carry out studies on discharges and monitoring of its conservation plan. The Caño Martin Peña Ecosystem Restoration Project can do the same with its plan for wastewater treatment. The Municipality of Bayamón will be able to rebuild sanitary pumps in Minillas Court, and make improvements to mitigate problems related to rivers and streams.
Once the works are completed, these communities will have sanitary sewer services in their residential and commercial structures for the first time. This, in turn, should eliminate the need to have septic tanks in homes, and facilitate wastewater treatment before reaching the environment. This would reduce pollution levels in rivers and underground deposits. This would contribute to public health and environmental preservation.
About 50 percent of the island´s houses are not connected to any sewer system. Resolving this situation is a mayor task for PRASA. Their budget is not affected by the financing model of these projects, neither do they affect infrastructure reconstruction allocations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
These projects were selected due to their high impact on the communities and their viability. Public entities and the third sector that are responsible for the works showed that they are prepared, with work plans, repayment capacity and fiscal stability, to do the work.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico faces a major item in the agenda: providing sustainability to its water systems. In terms of infrastructure, this includes capacity to deal with droughts without the need for rationing or, at least, for these periods to be short. While in administrative terms, PRASA reorganization is a priority as a follow-up to its fiscal plan, which includes efficient billing processes.
Puerto Rico must develop a water value culture, at governmental, business and individual level. It is up to everyone to raise awareness that access and enjoyment of water imply both a right and a responsibility.