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  • Writer's pictureSextant Foundation

Rebuilding Puerto Rico’s Water Systems

When Sextant was asked to help Project HOPE and the Department of Health assess Puerto Rico’s water systems, we deployed volunteers that same week. Together, we are helping rebuild the country’s water infrastructure, one system at a time. Of the 78 community-based systems to be assessed, we’ve covered three so far. There is much work to be done, but the data collected by our volunteers is resulting in immediate action – delivering clean, safe water for people living in Puerto Rico.

The first two volunteers on the scene were Seth Francis (from Mazzetti’s Portland office) and Samantha Sharp (from our friends at Fall Creek Engineering). Seth has recounted their day-to-day experiences while in country, to help prepare our next set of volunteers, Emily Corwin (from Fall Creek Engineering), Jeremy Martinez (from California Hydronics Corp) and Gilbert Duggins (from Mazzetti’s Nashville office).

Day 1- Monday, October 9th: When I arrived, I was sent to the central command center in San Juan to meet with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Health (DOH) and establish our plan to assist with water system assessments. We were to assess whether systems were working, or in need of replacement or restoration. After being introduced to different assets and organizations, we navigated heavy traffic, and I missed the first assessment deployment. I stayed with the Project HOPE medical team in a nearby pediatric hospital to assist with supply organization and assess the HVAC systems, which to my surprise, were all working fine. Samantha, the second engineer, arrived in the afternoon and we got her settled in.

Day 2 – Tuesday, October 10th: After waiting six hours for the DOH team to fight through traffic, Samantha and I hit the road, only to sit in traffic for three more hours.  This was due to flash flooding, landslides, road damage, blockages, and the lack of working traffic lights. We finally made it to the first community just before dark and assessed two small water systems, and made a plan with the local municipality for the next day to be more productive.

Day 3 – Wednesday, October 11th: We met with the DOH team at 6am and went out to the first community to finish our water analysis.  We beat traffic and were able to complete assessments on four small non-utility water systems, as well as distribute food, water and chlorine tablets for water sanitization as needed.  We proceeded to a second community and completed six more assessments before returning back around 7pm. We debriefed with the EPA and a non-profit called Water Mission, to determine the priority systems, locations and a plan of action.  Water Mission mobilized to send out portable surface water filtration systems, generators and solar panels to create central drinking water distribution points, as well as to take some well systems off the failed grid connection, and energize them with solar.

Day 4 – Thursday, October 12th: Samantha left with the DOH team for an assessment of a third community, while I stayed back to synthesize the last two days of data to distribute to the EPA, DOH, Water Mission and military command, for an efficient response plan.  I attended a meeting with various government and non-profit players to report back on the water mission, and determine the best plan moving forward. On the side I am working with Oregon non-profits back home that are interested in solar solutions for medical buildings, water plants, or schools in Puerto Rico.  I am determining how the EPA, Solar Hope and Sextant can all work together to best utilize these resources and achieve diverse project success.

Next steps: The EPA and DOH will continue to complete water system assessments (along with determining other basic needs while on-site) so as to alert FEMA, the military and other departments on how best to provide solutions.  This information can also be fed back to Water Mission to provide immediate drinking water solutions and potential solar system installs for water plants around the island.  Water Mission and the EPA have stated that if we can send three more engineers to the field, we can effectively and efficiently address the water needs of the remaining communities.

You can support our continued efforts to bring clean water to the people of Puerto Rico by donating here.

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