Government Makes Payment, Continues Negotiations with USGS for Water Monitoring
SAN JUAN – The president of the Environmental Quality Board (EQB), Weldin Ortiz, and the secretary of the Natural and Environmental Resources Department (DNER by its Spanish initials), Carmen Guerrero, said Sunday that the government advanced a payment to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and continues to negotiate a payment plan to ensure water monitoring services continue to be offered in Puerto Rico.
“Over the past two months, the EQB has been in talks with the USGS to establish a payment plan and be able to pay off debt accumulated under an umbrella contract that includes services through fiscal year 2016,” Ortiz said.
He added that the EQB and the USGS have agreed to conclude discussions of the payment plan during the week ending June 17 and begin payments in the new fiscal year starting July 1.
“In addition, complete a new collaborative agreement for the 2016 fiscal year with a marked reduction in costs and prevent service interruption,” the EQB president said.
Ortiz said that in May, the Treasury Department issued a $535,000 payment, while the USGS states the current debt amounts to $2,142,984.
“Last Tuesday, June 7, the USGS submitted the latest version of the payment plan for consideration by the Collaborative Agreement’s executive board, which is under review,” Ortiz said.
Meanwhile, Guerrero explained that “the DNER is one of 13 agencies that are part of the agreement. The state government is making every effort to reach agreements with the USGS because we understand that the monitoring of water resources is a matter of security and well-being for the country, which represents an essential service.”
He added that the “stations are essential for monitoring possible flooding and drought events, reservoir levels, and the quality of aquifers and inland bodies of water at 177 stations throughout the island.”
Not operating the up to 177 hydrologic stations would affect the ability to issue flood warnings as well as the monitoring of water quality, aquifer levels and drinking water supplies.
“It’s a serious problem,” Rafael Rodríguez, director of the USGS Caribbean-Florida Water Science Center, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Friday. “The water quality network is being eliminated in its entirety.”
The EQB and 12 other local agencies are required by law to pay USGS 65 percent of the cost of operating the stations.
Rodríguez said Friday the USGS had offered officials a payment plan and proposals to lower the agencies’ yearly contributions, but officials had not responded.
More than 100 other stations would have remain edoperational, but they are limited in scope and used exclusively by Puerto Rico’s power agency and its water and sewer company, Rodríguez said.
It is the second time this week that Puerto Rico’s debt has affected services. On Tuesday, the island’s only active air ambulance company said it had suspended its services over a multimillion-dollar debt.