Water Industry News
PRASA has ample water supplies
By Ferdinand Quinones, PE
Technical Manager of the Office of the Water Plan to
Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) and Department of
Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER)
Rico has ample water even during droughts. The average annual
precipitation over the Island is 69 inches per year, with several
basins receiving as much as 100 inches a year. We estimate
that under the worst case scenario of a 100-year drought, the
streams and aquifers in the Island, combined with the storage in 32
public reservoirs, can deliver easily 500 million gallons per day (mgd’s).
Look at the islands water budget in the web page.
fresh water use in the Island in 2002 was about 723 mgd, including
domestic (PRASA), industrial, agricultural, business and government.
PRASA produced 576 mgd in 2002 to serve 3.8 million people, at a
tune of 151 gallons per person per day (gppd). Actual
consumption is estimated at about 85 gppd. Therefore, PRASA
looses about 43% of its production to leaks and waste. Losses
have increased from less than 20 % in 1960 to the current 43 %.
serves the highest percentage of people in their service area than
any other single utility in the world (3.8 of the 3.91 population of
the island). About 125,000 people rely on Non-PRASA private
systems that do not meet the Federal Potable Water criteria.
PRASA recently financed a $550K study of these systems to develop
strategies to bring them into compliance, since EPA is looking at
sanctions to force them to comply with drinking water standards.
real issues on the water problems in the island are related some to
the labor problems, but the main issues are the lack of resources
and long-term planning due to political intervention with PRASA
management. These are the true facts from the results of the
- If potable
water losses are reduced from 43% to 25% of production, the Island
would not need much additional infrastructure for the next 15
years, except in certain regions, particularly the Southwest and
the Central Region.
- The average
annual cycle of the Island shows that there is enough runoff to
produce at least twice as much water as PRASA produces now.
Reducing the losses to a manageable level establishes that there
is a potential to supply 3-4 times the island’s
current population. This translates to decades if not
hundred of years of supplies.
- Storage of
runoff is a major issue, since the reservoirs, which supply 370
mgd to PRASA, are relatively small. In most of the
island’s basins, extractions of raw water is less than 30 %
of average basin production. Even so, the current storage
systems can easily meet the demand of a 90-day drought, even
with the current levels of losses. Additional reservoirs are
now under consideration to improve storage and service.
- True that
thousands of families have poor service and low pressures. This
is related to a combination of factors:
growth of 1% per year in the Island has resulted in urban sprawl into
the rural areas that is taxing PRASA's supply and distributions systems
ahead of plans and construction. Plant capacities are partially inadequate
to meet the demand.
In the Central and East Central Regions, where most of these
problems occur, even although the average rainfall on the hills is
almost 100 inches a year, the filtration plants are not well equipped to
deal with high turbidities each time it rains a lot. Production is
reduced or shut down. Lack of adequate storage for finished water
compounds the problem, since the systems do not have enough time to
recuperate each time the plants go down due to high turbidity.
Empty or partially filled tanks result in low pressures and reduced
service. Lack of proper maintenance and labor problems compound
In the Southern and Southeast regions, water supplies are more
limited than in the other regions due to limited rainfall, problems with
the aquifers, limited infrastructure and competition for the water with
agriculture and power generation. PRASA’s efforts to expand
production have been slowed down by private interests in agriculture and
environmental groups unhappy with the losses in the systems.
solutions to the problem are going to take years and cost tons of money.
PRASA just finished a Master Infrastructure Plan to year 2030, and
jointly with the Water Management Plan, we see the end of the tunnel.
Actions that will be required in the next 3-5 years and beyond:
PRASA’s balance sheet. PRASA’s water and sewage rates are
the lowest among 50 of 51 similar utilities in the USA and Canada.
There are no incentives for water conservation (or penalties for
waste). This is a political issue. PRASA’s operational
budget runs a deficit in excess of $200 million a year and
infrastructure funds are limited by the Commonwealth finances.
losses to not more than 30 % in 5 years and 25 % in 10 years.
PRASA is organizing an Office of Water Loss to press forward with an
intense effort to reduce losses. Tons of money will be
required for replacement of pipes and leaky fire hydrants.
Continuous leakage detection programs will be implemented.
raw and finished water storage. Additional reservoirs are
needed to deal with droughts and critical areas in the south and
southwest. Additional storage tanks are needed to stabilize
water pressures in many systems. PRASA’s infrastructure plan
addresses these needs. This will cost lots of money too.
water management with the DNER. Several agencies now have
control of water resources, with conflicts. A legal study as
part of the Water Plan will identify strategies to address the water
aquifers have been perceived as a huge water source, which is
incorrect. Although significant, they can yield only about 150
mgd of sustained withdrawals if conditions were favorable, but they
are a mess, with saline intrusion, overdraft and contamination.
Extreme measures will be required to restore them to maintain a 100
mgd production for now, and there is the potential that this will be
reduced. An aquifer restoration program is proposed, and as
part of it, PRASA recently authorized an initial recharge viability
study in the south coast.
reuse offers a potential for some relief, particularly in the
industrial sector and for restoration of aquifers. The Water
Plan identifies opportunities for reuse. PRASA and the AEE are
collaborating in some reuse programs.
also offers a potential for some relief, but energy costs and
maintenance present reality obstacles. Electric power in the
island is very expensive, and desalination is still very expensive
even with RO technology as compared with surface and ground
resources in the Island. The Plan identifies opportunities for
RO and other desalination issues.
water in a reliable manner to a society of 3.9 million in an Island
of 3,345 square miles where more than half of the terrain is steep
and hilly, with thousands of pumping stations, 15,000+ kilometers of
transmission lines, 105 filtration plants under one utility with
5,000 employees, is no piece of cake.
believe that PRASA has now an excellent management team that, if allowed
by the politicians to run the utility as a business, we will see
significant improvements in a relative short time. Providing water
to every citizen in the Island that chooses to live in isolated
communities where each connection may cost as much as $100,000, is not a
task that neither PRASA nor any utility can achieve. PRASA is
doing well for 90-95% of the people, and will do better in the next few
years if the Water Plan and the Water Infrastructure Plan are
implemented. The Water Management Plan will be published early in
2005 for review and public hearings, with plans for adoption within a
few months. The new management at PRASA is moving quickly to implement
elements of the Infrastructure Plan subject to availability of funds.
A copy of the Water Management Plan for the Island will be
available in the indicated web page as early as mid January 2005.