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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House probes PRASA’s actions to deal with drought



House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Jorge Rivera Segarra (Griselle Rosario)

By The Star Staff


The House Agriculture Committee held a public hearing Monday to investigate and learn about the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) action plans to face drought conditions in Puerto Rico.


“Water is essential for a good quality of life and we do not want our people to be affected by the lack of a resource as important as water,” Committee Chairman Jorge Rivera Segarra said.


PRASA executive adviser Francisco Torres Vega said the government agency begins to take actions when reservoir levels go down in coordination with the Drought Management Committee. Actions are implemented according to the state of supply, he said.


“Among the measures carried out are: making operational adjustments, urgently addressing leaks, guiding citizens on the prudent use of water resources, regulating the use of drinking water for certain activities during a state of emergency due to a drought declaration, and imposing fines, if necessary, to prohibit the waste of water,” Torres Vega said.


Regarding climate change, Torres Vega noted that the manifestations of the greenhouse effect are increasingly continuous, with periods of rain deficit that cause states of drought.


“In the last 10 years, the island has experienced a greater frequency of drought periods, some more severe than others,” he said.


When asked by the committee chairman when the last meeting of the Drought Committee was held, Torres Vega replied that “this committee is activated when there are times of drought.”


“The committee has its functions, but we [PRASA] are monitoring conditions at each of the supply sources,” the official said.


The Drought Management Committee is made up of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, PRASA, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the Agriculture Department (DA), the Department of Public Safety, the Puerto Rico Planning Board and the Statistics Institute.


“What is the plan for dredging the reservoirs and lakes?” the legislator asked, to which Torres Vega responded that “the only [dredging] project that PRASA has is for Lake Carraízo, and it is expected to begin at the end of the year.”


Rivera Segarra commented that “one of the options is to dredge the reservoirs … so that they can contain more water.”


DA Secretary Ramón González Beiró highlighted meanwhile that “carrying out dredging is something significant.”


“However, this does not imply we will have another month of water,” he said. “The reality is that we must take steps to preserve and use water more efficiently.”


The DA secretary noted how risk systems are managed at land authority farms and private estates.


“There are established protocols where all the agencies concerned participate in the event of a drought and, in the face of climate change, we have not experienced major droughts, but we have experienced changes in rain patterns,” he said.


Regarding farmers’ water supply, González Beiró added that he works together with PREPA.


“The majority of agriculture is cultivated in the south,” he said. “Lately, there has been an increase in the number of ponds to use more water from the canals and alternate with the aquifers in times of drought.”


Puerto Rico is expected to face an extreme drought this year, and the DA secretary added that the mountain region is the one that would be most affected.


At the hearing’s conclusion, Rivera Segarra, called on the deponents to have a plan that supports the mountain region’s water supply needs during drought.


“Our mountain people need this essential resource …” he said. “We cannot wait for a drought to happen before taking action.”

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