Worst drought in decades hits Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- At the home of Maria Rodriguez, 27, a housewife with four children, the plants are dead, the washing machine is idle and the driveway is dirty.

She gets water from civil defense trucks that, on most days, stop by to fill up the large drums and assorted buckets that now sit permanently by her front door. She does laundry with a washboard in a nearby brook. And she forages for bottled water in supermarkets.


High on the mountains in Caguas, a city of 134,000 people 17 miles south of San Juan, the residents of Barrio Beatriz drew not a drop of water from their faucets for a month and a half, and only a trickle for a few hours this week.

The drought, the worst in Puerto Rico in nearly 30 years, has caused water levels in reservoirs to drop at an alarming rate over the last four months. And it has led to water rationing for more than half of the island's 3.6 million residents since May 7, mainly in the San Juan metropolitan area.


The lack of rain has caused agricultural losses yet to be quantified for cattle ranchers, dairy farmers and coffee growers. And it has forced some small businesses, such as car washes, to close.

But for the 400 families of Barrio Beatriz who get their water from a river whose flow has been severely diminished, the drought has even more personal implications.

Mrs. Rodriguez and her rural family have had to relinquish their toilet and have started using a latrine they share with neighbors. "This crisis is just becoming too much," she said. "God forbid, but only a storm or a hurricane can save us."

Officials at the National Weather Service here say that islands east and south of Puerto Rico are also grappling with the worst drought in years. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, residents are relying on bottled water, and farmers have asked for aid.

In Puerto Rico, where water is supposed to be cut off only every other day, the drought has left people in highland communities such as Barrio Beatriz suffering through much longer shortages.

And with each passing day of sunshine, with only sporadic rain, their prospects become gloomier. There are plans to expand rationing to larger areas and extend it over longer periods. Currently, most residents do not get water from 1 p.m. to 5 a.m. every other day.