Puerto Rico has had a history of problems with drinking water, including high levels of contamination. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking action to improve the situation. On April 4, the agency announced that it will invest $62,283,000 to improve Puerto Rico’s drinking water infrastructure through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF).
The funds are part of recent federal legislation that earmarked $6 billion for drinking water infrastructure upgrades across the nation. “EPA is putting the funding where the priorities are by working with our state partners to deliver clean water to communities, protect public health, and advance environmental justice across Puerto Rico and the nation,” said U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia. “This funding is part of the once-in-a lifetime investments we are making to transform infrastructure under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”
The amount of funding being provided for Puerto Rico is equal to that given to Utah and Idaho, the states closest to Puerto Rico in population.
The new project focuses on the contamination of drinking water with lead and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Lead was found in 64% of samples tested in Puerto Rico in 2018, and more recent data suggest higher levels. Coal ash, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals are also found in water in Puerto Rico; the upgrades to the water infrastructure could help with these contaminants as well.
Two thirds of water samples taken in last year’s survey of water quality showed contaminants at levels that violate U.S. water standards. The Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) provides more than 97% of all the drinking water consumed in Puerto Rico. PRASA was recently the subject of a cyberattack that compromised staff and customer information. The EPA funds will also cover cybersecurity improvements.
Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR) also mentioned reliable access to potable water. “I welcome this new allocation of $62.2 million in federal resources from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to improve water infrastructure in Puerto Rico. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, we saw the need to strengthen such infrastructure to prevent water service interruptions and ensure our communities have access to drinking water at all times,” she said.
Following Hurricane Maria, and during earlier spells of drought in Puerto Rico, residents were unable to get regular supplies of clean water. An outbreak of leptospirosis took place in 2017 as residents were forced to turn to streams and other water sources for their drinking water.
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