Puerto Rico water utility: We lack nearly half of generators needed in case of a disaster
SAN JUAN – During a public hearing held by the Puerto Rico Senate’s Public Safety Committee to investigate the government’s response ahead of the new hurricane season, the director of corporate security and emergencies of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (Prasa), Mayra Encarnación, said about half of the electric generators needed to provide potable water to the island, were a disaster to knock out power again, are needed.
Encarnación assured Friday that the public water utility has the generators needed to support the island’s sewage system; however, she said, 550 generators, or nearly 50%, are still needed to keep the potable water system running in case of a prolonged blackout.
According to a Senate press release Friday, Encarnación explained that after Hurricane Maria, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “brought 750 generators” to support the drinking water system for five months; “however, there are only 340” left.
Prasa “Executive Director [Eli] Díaz Atienza is making efforts for FEMA to leave us those generators and we can use them in our system,” she added.
At the hearing, Prasa adviser Ferdinand Sánchez said the reason for the historic flooding in Levittown, Toa Baja, on Sept. 20, the day Maria struck, was not due to a “problem with the dam” or poor management by the utility, but was the result of a “natural rise” of “more than 200,012 cubic feet per second,” which overwhelmed the rainwater channel system in the area.
A rescue operation by the National Guard ensued in the coastal town neighborhood, where water rose 10 feet. Families had to climb on the roof of their homes while they waited for the authorities. Some 2,000 people were rescued. Others had to wait up to three days to get out of the flooded areas.
“This system, finding no way out, began to…leave through the sewer system, much like what happened in Ocean Park. Another factor was that the surge of waves, which exceeded 4 feet, plus the storm surge did not allow the water to leave,” he explained.
“We have lowered the levels of the dam to drought levels and the rise that passed through there was natural. People say the flooding is due to the rise of the La Plata reservoir, but I assure you that was the case. Already by 4 in the morning, the dam was without its gates closedñ what happened there was the river’s rise. In addition, the measures we took managed to reduce the magnitude of the flood because the lake was empty and filled in 4 hours with the rise,” the adviser said.
Regarding water trucks, which are used to supply communities without access to potable water, they said only 100 are available.
“The biggest problem with the water trucks was that some health centers consumed…many resources such as the Medical Center, which required about 15 tanker trucks daily,” Enacarnación said.
However, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, they realized “the possibility of installing communal faucets, and also use 2,000-gallon [water-storage] bladders.”
With these resources, they said, water could be supplied to the entire island in case of a major event during this hurricane season.