For the Almirante community of Cidra, water security was unstable after the passing of Hurricane Maria. Now, with a renovated aqueduct system installed, the situation is different
When Hurricane Maria shut down the island’s already fragile electrical grid, it also shut off Jose Amaro’s community’s water supply. Amaro, a retired helicopter mechanic, serves as Almirante’s aqueduct president and project manager.
He lives in the Puerto Rican municipality of Cidra, located in the central mountainous region. The island’s municipal water supply is unable to source the 92 families in which his neighborhood is located due to the altitude in which they’re at, according to water expert and chemist Alexander Rodriguez.
Jose Amaro’s home is one of the 242 communities that are not connected to the PRASA (Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority), therefore having to come up with alternate systems for water distribution.
The Almirante community traditionally sourced their water from a nearby water well, but after Maria, the system was compromised.
Post-hurricane, the community went without power for 7 months,� and the neighborhood members took it upon themselves to fix the power lines that were down. They advanced the work of the AEE (Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority) as the lines had been devastated by their height and placement. To aid the issue of water scarcity, the municipality facilitated an electric generator to power the water well which started servicing people in the community whose houses were not connected to the system. Anyone that needed water could be serviced.
Yet at this time they had one prominent challenge: transporting the electric generator to and from the well. “People were taking shifts to keep guard of the generator for over 7 months” commented Amaro.
The main issue was that without electric power, there was no water supply available. Taking this into account, a local political representative of the area connected them with Alexander Rodriguez, project manager and water expert for the non-profit organization Por Los Nuestros.
With the assistance of Por Los Nuestros, Blue Planet Energy, and a generous grant from Direct Relief, the community combined efforts to install an improved sourcing system that wouldn’t need to depend on the teetering power grid. Blue Planet Energy, a company that supplies solar panels for unreliable grids, donated the solar batteries for the power panels.
Por Los Nuestros made sure the community got involved in the implementation process. And according to Alexander Rodriguez, everyone contributed in their own unique way.
“There was constant active participation [from the community.] One neighbor would bring freshly made passion fruit juice when we were working. Others would make meals. In whatever way they could, each one contributed their grain of sand.”
The non-profit successfully launched, with the active participation of Almirante, the renovated solar-power aqueduct system in the fall of last year.
The primary system is powered by solar energy, but whenever it’s overcast the secondary system which is the AEE (Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority) goes into place, therefore complementing off each other.
In case the first two power sources are unavailable, the third system is an electric generator the organization provided. This is a great relief for the neighbors, Amaro recalls. “It’s in it’s own protective shelter so we don’t have to be paranoid someone will steal it. That greatly facilitates things for us. We recently had the earthquakes in January and the system kept working without any major setbacks.”
Not only has this community kept its system running efficiently, but they have also become an example of a non-PRASA community that cares to see this project continue on successfully.
As Amaro recounts upon reflecting on this endeavor to restore efficiency to an unreliable water system: “The monetary price is one thing, but the peace that we have felt as a community has far exceeded anything we could have imagined.”