Puerto Rico faces water quality challenges due to underfunded environmental agencies on the island that now face significant new challenges as a result of Hurricane Irma.
Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon—Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative in the U.S. Congress—told Bloomberg BNA that some rural areas on the island could lose power for months as a result of Irma, a storm with winds clocking above 180 miles per hour.
“We’ve never been hit by a hurricane with these kinds of winds before, ever,” Gonzalez-Colon said.
Most pumping stations in Puerto Rico run on electric power, making a power outage a major problem for the island's water infrastructure. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it is ready to send staffers into Puerto Rico to inspect drinking water and wastewater facilities for damage. Ruth Santiago, an attorney and environmental activist in Puerto Rico, said she expects Puerto Rico’s local government, along with federal disaster officials, to work toward getting its water systems back up and running as quickly as possible. However, she said she hopes they also go beyond simply reconnecting the water to address the deluge of polluted storm water runoff that will be flowing into the island’s aquifers.
Santiago said addressing these water quality problems is likely not something that Puerto Rico’s local government can accomplish on its own, given its crippling, long-term debt problems. Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority has been unable to borrow money from the private bond market for years and was recently cut off from a federal water infrastructure loan program.