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How Safe is Drinking Water in Puerto Rico?

Both the CDC and World Health Organization say that Puerto Rico’s drinking water is generally safe to drink. Travel advisors expand on that, pointing out that as a territory of the United States Puerto Rico must meet the same standards for drinking water as the States do.

When we examined Puerto Rico’s water situation in 2017, we learned that nearly 70% of residents were receiving tap water with illegally high levels of bacteria and other contaminants. A USGS study in 2018 found widespread contaminants, including lead in 64% of samples and copper in 100%. A follow-up study some months after this found that contaminants from pesticides to pharmaceuticals to artificial sweeteners were present at levels harmful to human health in every sample.

Have things improved?

In a word, no. Recent data from the Environmental Protection Agency shows that very few samples from community water systems were in compliance with U.S. standards.

The same source compared Puerto Rico’s public water systems with the national average and showed that violations, while they have decreased since 2015 when 90% were in violation, are still found in more than two thirds of systems. This is more than double the national average.

In other words, while Puerto Rico is subject to the same standards as the States, the territory is clearly not meeting those standards.

Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA)

PRASA supplies more than 97% of the drinking water used in Puerto Rico. The EPA has closed alternative wells previously being used because the levels of contamination were excessively high, but was not able to determine the source of that contamination and is relying on time to reduce groundwater contamination naturally.

PRASA is therefore the primary source of water in the territory. Deeply in debt, PRASA was looking into privatization. However, the utility recently announced that their financial position had improved thanks to federal funds for rebuilding after Hurricane Maria. They now will be able to proceed with plans to improve their functioning.

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