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Puerto Rico Has Declared A State Of Emergency And Left Residents Without Access To Running Water

Another crisis is unfolding on the island of Puerto Rico, as a severe drought grips the territory and forces the government to take drastic measures. After a series of major earthquakes and hurricanes, Puerto Rico is now suffering through one of its worst droughts in history.

Water is scarce. And the government is implementing rationing measures that will leave hundreds of thousands of residents without regular access to running water.

Gov. Wanda Vazquez has announced a state of emergency as the government begins rationing water.

Puerto Rico is once again in the headlines for an ongoing crisis that is affecting hundreds of thousands of island residents. On Monday, Puerto Rico’s governor declared a state of emergency as a worsening drought creeps across the territory.

Starting July 2, nearly 140,000 customers, including some in the capital of San Juan, will be without water for 24 hours every other day as part of strict rationing measures. Puerto Rico’s utilities company urged people to not excessively stockpile water because it would worsen the situation, and officials asked that everyone use masks and maintain social distancing if they seek water from one of 23 water trucks set up across the island.

“We’re asking people to please use moderation,” said Doriel Pagán, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Water and Sewer Authority, adding that she could not say how long the rationing measures will last.

The order signed also prohibits certain activities in most municipalities including watering gardens during daylight hours, filling pools and using a hose or non-recycled water to wash cars. Those caught face fines ranging from $250 for residents to $2,500 for industries for a first violation.

Puerto Rico is experiencing a drought ranging from moderate to severe in some parts of the territory.

Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of last week more than 26% of the island is experiencing a severe drought and another 60% is under a moderate drought. Water rationing measures affecting more than 16,000 clients were imposed this month in some communities in the island’s northeast region.

The island’s access to water is complicated by the fact that many residents rely on a system of reservoirs in Puerto Rico for water. However, due to budget constraints, several have not been dredged for years, leaving sediment to collect and allowing the excess loss of water. 

Aside from drought, the island is still recovering from a pair of deadly earthquakes and Hurricane Maria.

Credit: Eric Rojas / Getty Images

Over the last few years, Puerto Rico has suffered a one-two punch that has left much of the island’s infrastructure in shambles. In fact, Vasquez cited the lasting impacts of the December and January earthquakes and the coronavirus pandemic as exacerbating the water crisis.

The current water crisis has threatened the safety and wellbeing of Puerto Ricans. The earthquakes also disproportionately impacted the southern region where the drought is most severe. Vázquez also extended the coronavirus curfew for the whole island, which began in March, for three more weeks, making it the longest continuous curfew in the United States so far.

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