Starting July 2, nearly 140,000 clients, 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.
Fernanda Ramos, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service in San Juan, said ongoing dry conditions will be interrupted by thunderstorms forecast to affect the island on Wednesday and Thursday.
“However, we are not expecting enough rain… to solve the problem we’re seeing,” she said.
More than 26% of the island is experiencing a severe drought and another 60% is under a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Water rationing measures affecting more than 16,000 clients were imposed earlier this month in some communities in the island’s northeast region.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez said 21 of 78 municipalities are affected by the severe drought while another 29 by the moderate drought. An additional 12 municipalities face abnormally dry conditions. The worst of the drought is concentrated in Puerto Rico’s southern region, which continues to be affected by aftershocks following a 6.0-magnitude earthquake that hit in early January and caused millions of dollars in damage.
An administrative order signed Monday 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.
Vázquez’s announcement comes amid criticism of her administration for not dredging reservoirs, which would eliminate sediment and avoid excess loss of water. Pagán said the utilities company has been in conversation with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency since Hurricane Maria about a $300 million dredging investment. She blamed the lengthy process on the number of studies and analysis needed and that require FEMA’s approval.
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