Worsening drought forces state of emergency in Puerto Rico

June 29, 2020 - 12:41 pm

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor on Monday declared a state of emergency as a worsening drought creeps across the U.S. territory amid a coronavirus pandemic.

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 thousands of Puerto Ricans have already been imposed in some communities in the island’s northeast region, and officials are expected to soon announce more widespread measures that would affect hundreds of thousands of utility customers, including those in the capital of San Juan.

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.

Vázquez's announcement comes amid criticism of her administration for not dredging reservoirs, which would eliminate sediment and avoid excess loss of water.

Fernanda Ramos, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service in San Juan, said 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.

One of the largest of Puerto Rico’s 11 reservoirs is at dangerously low levels, and five others are under a state of observation. Officials at the government-owned water and sewer company have already taken other measures, including activating water wells and transferring 25,000 clients to another reservoir.

Puerto Rico last experienced a punishing drought five years ago that affected 2.5 million people and led to severe water rationing measures. During that time, some 400,000 utility customers received water only every third day.

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