The reduction of water levels in some reservoirs, due to low rainfall levels recorded in Puerto Rico in recent weeks, requires the Aqueducts and Sewer Authority to take measures to prevent rationing this essential service, especially now that hygiene is essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The corporation responsible for the supply of drinking water must undertake initiatives to protect water storage. Strengthening maintenance at dams and other crucial facilities, which would mitigate a serious impact on the service to customers if rainfall levels continue to drop over time, is a key initiative. This reduction already reflects a significant impact on the Carraízo, Toa Vaca, and Guajataca dams.
The island's main reservoirs saw their storage capacity reduced due to increased sedimentation associated with the impact of Hurricane María in 2017. Efforts to complete approval of dredging projects need to be expedited.
In the meantime, PRASA must maintain its Capital Improvement Program, which was paralyzed for five years. The corporation said in February they have resumed that effort which represents a $2 billion investment to improve the drinking water system infrastructure, among other aspects, focused on optimizing operations.
Engineers and other experts have evaluated the condition of the corporation facilities and have designed plans to strengthen the infrastructure security, focusing on critical renovations and the modernization of information systems to improve the quality of service to the 1.3 million PRASA customers. These are key projects for the island's recovery, so they should not be paralyzed again.
Meanwhile, several stages of dredging plans for major reservoirs such as Carraízo and La Plata, which supply water to the island's most densely populated area, have been completed. Final approval by the Federal Emergency Management Agency is still pending.
It is crucial to speed up such efforts because of the unquestionable need to improve dams storage capacity. An estimated $300 million was allocated to the Carraízo and La Plata for each dredging project. However, according to experts estimates, the cost could increase if the works are not completed in the short term.
PRASA must promote key dam improvement projects without relegating the repair of old or vandalized lines that cause the loss of thousands of gallons of drinking water while addressing the removal and replacement of storage tanks in rural areas that are critical to ensure supply to poor communities.
The leakage of water, which four years ago the Authority estimated at 60,000, means that the corporation only bills part of the production. The corporation's estimate in 2014 was 380 million gallons wasted from 640 million gallons produced daily. This deficiency must be addressed with technology-assisted efforts to identify and repair breakdowns.
Meanwhile, if limited rainfall patterns in reservoir basins continue, citizens will need to adopt measures to use drinking water sensibly. Therefore, it will be advisable to rule out cleaning by using the hose as a broom, washing motor vehicles, or watering green areas.
Drinking water is essential for regular hygiene in these times of pandemic. It is urgent to count on citizens' collaboration to avoid practices that limit water supply to homes and businesses.
A coordinated effort by state and federal authorities to improve the infrastructure and processes of the drinking water supply system, as well as citizens' solidarity and support through the sensible use of this vital resource, will reduce service interruptions at a time when water is an essential shield against the pandemic.