Puerto Rican officials claim that access to clean water on the island has been restored to more than 96 percent of residents, a sign that life in the U.S. territory is inching back to normal following the devastation from Hurricane Maria in September.
The storm knocked out water service to over half the residents that use the island’s utility provider Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA), according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The authority provides water to more than 97 percent of the island.
Puerto Rico, where the water had the lowest quality rating and the highest number of violations of any U.S. territory or state even before Maria, has been struggling for more than nine months to provide residents with potable water.
With no access to clean water in their own homes, many Puerto Rican residents were forced to resort to waterways, but even that wasn’t safe.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that more than a third of sewage treatment plants were unable to function after the hurricane. As a result, raw sewage flowed into waterways residents used for drinking and bathing. At least 74 residents fell ill with leptospirosis, a serious bacterial infection contracted by consuming or wading in contaminated water.
Clean water, however, won’t be assured until the island has a secure power grid.
With constant electrical outages and faulty generators, water pumps can’t deliver water to residents’ homes in a timely manner, and operations are disrupted at treatment plants. Puerto Rican residents are urged to boil their water for three minutes the first three days after their water is restored to ensure it is safe to drink.
The island suffered a power outage as recently as April, seven months after the Hurricane first made landfall. It was the second largest black-out on record worldwide.