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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Drinking water service to return for families that depend on aqueducts

José G. Baquero, FEMA federal disaster recovery coordinator for Puerto Rico

By The Star Staff

More than 2,000 families will have access to drinking water following repairs of community aqueducts through allocations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for damage that resulted from Hurricane Maria, the federal agency announced Tuesday.

The funds from the agency’s Public Assistance Program will be distributed between communities in 10 municipalities: Adjuntas, Aguas Buenas, Barranquitas, Caguas, Comerío, Corozal, Naranjito, Ponce, San Lorenzo and Yabucoa. Furthermore, through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, nearly $1.8 million was assigned for the first phase of a project to assess the viability of backup power in 232 vulnerable communities.

The project would prevent the interruption of the potable water supply to around 100,000 residents. Due to their location, the aforementioned communities don’t have access to water and sewage connections through the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA).

“Today, as we celebrate World Water Day, we reaffirm our commitment for Puerto Rican families to have access to water, which is a fundamental right for human beings,” said José G. Baquero, FEMA’s federal disaster recovery coordinator for Puerto Rico. “So far, we have allocated a total of nearly $9 million for 231 community aqueduct projects with the goal of helping these communities that would otherwise lack drinking water.”

Brenda Guzmán, project manager at the Community Foundation, stated that the aqueduct of the San Diego Abajo sector in Coamo will benefit about 98 families. She added that the mitigation project aims for the aqueducts to “have an emergency generator available and that it can also, through an efficient pumping system, use solar panels.”

“This project addresses a primary need for these communities that depend on electrical service to operate their community aqueduct systems,” she said.

Likewise, at the Santas Pascuas Sector Community Aqueduct Inc. in Ponce, which serves around 63 families, repairs have already been completed, such as the replacement of PVC pipes from the water inlet to the storage tank with a 52,000-gallon capacity. A section of the pipeline on the surface was also replaced and a retaining wall will be built. The allocation of $56,000 for the Santas Pascuas project includes funds for hazard mitigation measures such as the restrengthening of the ground to prevent erosion, among others, FEMA said.

Solsiree Rosario Rivera, president of the Santas Pascuas Sector Community Aqueduct Inc., stated that “it’s extremely important, because we have people with disabilities and children.”

“Basically, it’s something that we needed,” she said. “Now, with the help that we’ll have, that will benefit us with better water service without the fear of losing it.”

The aqueducts outside of PRASA’s network are vital for some rural sectors that lack the drinking water service that other communities enjoy. The FEMA allocations are directed toward repairing and reinforcing the wells and their systems. The targeted improvements will serve to advance the recovery process that the families will undergo in case of a future storm, FEMA said.

“Currently, COR3 [the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience] has disbursed over $5.4 million for approximately 200 projects that make the availability of drinking water feasible in communities that can’t get PRASA’s service,” COR3 Executive Director Manuel A. Laboy Rivera said. “We will continue supporting communities to advance these reconstruction projects.”

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