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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Senate panel hears alarming testimony on sea level rise

Sen. Elizabeth Rosa Vélez, chairwoman of the Senate Innovation, Telecommunications, Urban Development and Infrastructure Committee

By John McPhaul

In alarming testimony before the Senate Innovation, Telecommunications, Urban Development and Infrastructure Committee on Senate Bill 665 to create the Public Policy for the Infrastructure of Puerto Rico, members of the Caribbean Center for Ocean Level Increase warned about the dangers facing the island regarding infrastructure and economy if action is not taken on rising sea levels, which they called “unstoppable and unprecedented.”

“Sea level rise is no small thing. Alone, it endangers coastal communities and economies where billions of dollars in assets will be literally or financially underwater,” said architect Fernando Pabón Rico, manager of the center. “This will have significant repercussions on various important economic sectors such as banking, insurance and reinsurance, energy, tourism and transportation, among others. At the same time, rising sea levels will also reduce the availability of drinking water due to saltwater intrusion into the island’s already vulnerable aquifers, and thus our ability to meet, as usual, the needs of society.”

Sen. Elizabeth Rosa Vélez, who chairs the committee, agreed and stated that “we definitely have to act now.”

“It seems to me that your presentation is a very complete one, which mainly enlightens me a lot, because you cover a big problem that exists in the country, which is the problem of water,” she said. “It’s good that you touch on such an important topic that is rarely talked about. And very little do we guide people that eventually and in some future there will be no water in our country, and that is what we are going to face soon if we do not act.”

The architect said likewise that multiple models estimate that the sea level could rise over two feet by mid-century and as much as 10 feet by the end of this century.

“This represents significant challenges and transformations,” Pabón Rico said. “This includes, but is not limited to: raising many sections of highways and bridges, modifying building codes, planning with safety margins, investing in engineering projects that may incorporate future modifications, and sometimes moving inland.”

In response to questions from Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. María de Lourdes Santiago about what projects should be relocated with urgency, Pabón Rico answered that they should be the structures of ports and airports, electrical energy structures, used water treatment and landfills. However, he was unable to pinpoint which specific communities would have to relocate immediately. He only limited himself to saying that they must be the “low-income communities that cannot fend for themselves.”

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