Residents across Puerto Rico are turning to natural springs, rivers, and even contaminated wells for water.

A Month After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico Still Desperate for Water

A month after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, a third of the island’s population is still without clean water. Left with no alternative, some residents are now using wells on hazardous waste sites and bathing in rivers contaminated with raw sewage.

Residents across Puerto Rico are turning to natural springs, rivers, and even contaminated wells for water. Visual: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images

Last Friday, workers from Puerto Rico’s water utility distributed water drawn from a well at a Superfund site, designated for cleanup by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2016 due to the presence of industrial chemicals associated with an increased risk of cancer and liver damage. After discovering that the well was in use, the EPA restored warning signs and fences around the site, and said analysis results for the water would be available next week.

In some areas where running water has been restored, residents are still advised to boil the water before drinking, as many treatment plants are not up and running. With the majority of the island still without power, however, that may not be possible. Beyond the lack of drinking water, some people have also resorted to bathing or washing clothes in rivers and reservoirs contaminated with sewage.

In a news conference on Monday, President Trump blamed the issues in accessing water on local distribution, and asserted he had sent plenty of water to the island.

Also in the news:

• Ireland braced for its own hurricane this week, as Ophelia — which was downgraded to a post-tropical storm before it made landfall — slammed into the country’s western coast on Monday. Forming over the Azores in Portugal, it was the first hurricane to develop this far north in 25 years. (New York Times)

• The EPA once enjoyed wide bipartisan support, as it worked to clean up the nation’s polluted air and water. But as the agency has become more focused on climate change, the political divide has grown. Four former agency chiefs say restoring faith “might take an environmental catastrophe.” (E&E News)

• Charges have been filed against the 15-year-old boy alleged to have started a forest fire in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. The fire charged through nearly 50,000 acres, after the teenager is said to have thrown a smoke bomb into Eagle Creek Canyon at the beginning of September. (The Oregonian)

• Salmonella cases in the U.S. have risen dramatically this year, as the trend of raising backyard chickens has brought more people into contact with the bacteria. (Associated Press)

• In most of the world, polio is remembered as a disease of the past. But it still hides out in areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, where terrorist conflict has thus far kept eradication out of reach. (Undark)

• And finally, research conducted across protected areas in Germany suggests that flying insects have declined by 75 percent in the last 30 years, raising the alarm for larger effects on the ecosystem.
(The Atlantic)