Puerto Ricans, both on and off the island, now remember September 20, 2017, as a common event, the coming of Hurricane Maria. Each of the 78 municipalities that make up the archipelago saw devastating winds and nonstop rain for a total of 12 hours.
Residents were plagued by the memories of that blackout as Hurricane Irma approached during the height of hurricane season. Irma made landfall on the island municipality of Culebra and the city of Loza, almost two weeks before its more destructive successor. After moving north to the Gulf of Mexico, Irma then made landfall on the U.S. mainland. The storm’s ferocious winds were only felt by a limited portion of the island. However, hundreds of Puerto Ricans had power outages. Since Irma, many of those towns have been without electricity.
When Hurricane Maria made landfall in Yabucoa on the island’s southeast coast and the time it left through Camuy on the northwest coast, the hurricane’s winds began to weaken. But it didn’t appear like the encounter with the land was important. The nation went into a general state of emergency.
The failure of telecommunications systems also heightened worry and terror. Friends and family were unable to get in touch with loved ones on and off the island after the storm. Only one radio station remained on the air to report the calamity as it unfolded after radio transmitters lost their antennas to the wind. Even though they were citizens of the United States, only a select few could contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Parents have uprooted to the mainland out of concern for their children’s future; elderly individuals have fled in quest of medical care. An estimated 200,000 people have moved to Florida and other states on the mainland since the disaster.
How does the government deal with the damage to the wastewater treatment infrastructure when these disasters occur, and what relief efforts are in place in the meantime?
In accordance with a deal with the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. The Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) and the Environmental Protection Agency have decided to update the existing facilities in the Puerto Nuevo system significantly, strengthen inspections, and keep enhancing their island-wide systems.
PRASA projects that the implementation of various injunctive remedy remedies to comply will cost about $1.5 billion. The proposed settlement mandates that PRASA take the following actions:
· At new water treatment facilities, PRASA is required to build a sludge treatment system and install alternative power sources while adhering to all sludge disposal and permitting regulations, including record keeping. Additionally, PRASA is required to install and maintain flow meters and high-level indicators at all water treatment facilities. Additionaly, judicious asset management and collection of monthly and daily samples of discharges from unpermitted sludge treatment systems and from newly installed sludge treatment systems at facilities without a final NPDES permit.
· PRASA is required to adhere to the terms of the NPDES permit issued by the Puerto Nuevo Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, submit a plan to evaluate the state of the sewers in the Puerto Nuevo sewer system, and submit a report and action plan to address particular issues in areas of the Puerto Nuevo sewer system that have been identified by EPA.
· A reconnaissance and cleaning component, a prevention control program for sanitary sewer overflows, dry weather overflows, and unauthorized releases, as well as a revision and implementation of its current fats, oil, and grease control program, are all requirements for PRASA’s operation and maintenance program for the Puerto Nuevo sewer system.
· Using computer-aided techniques, PRASA must create and submit updated maps of the Puerto Nuevo sewer system that include sewers from the Barriada Figueroa region. Additionally, PRASA is required to submit a report on the results, required construction, and required repairs for the sewers from the Barriada Figueroa area.
· In order to operate and maintain all sludge treatment systems at water treatment plants, wastewater treatment plants, and pump stations in accordance with the Integrated Maintenance Program, including the development of a Corrosion Control Plan, PRASA must adhere to all NPDES permits from water treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants, including all interim limitations. Additionally, PRASA must put corrective measures in place for accurate flow measurement at wastewater treatment plants.
· In addition to implementing a spill response, cleanup plan, and concrete haunching to address combined sewer overflows, sanitary sewer overflows, and unauthorized releases from all PRASA facilities, PRASA is required to submit an infiltration/inflow assessment report from each of its sewer systems. A proposed major modification to PRASA’s sewer connection regulation must also be reported to EPA.
· PRASA shall put in place management procedures that permit expanded EPA control of PRASA’s capital improvement project expenditures such as truck parking lots. PRASA must also put certain measures into place if it is to enhance its treatment process control system.
· For new sludge treatment plant and wastewater treatment plant operators as well as people in charge of putting PRASA’s treatment process control system into action, training requirements must be established by PRASA.
The most that people can do to prevent hurricanes is to make plans in advance of such calamities. Learning from the experiences of Puerto Ricans will help those of us in Tampa to experience far fewer issues with proper mitigation.