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EPA Recognizes Puerto Rico Drinking Water Alliance for Outstanding Contribution to Environmental Justice

Release Date: 04/10/2003
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(#03030) San Juan, P.R. – Earlier today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Caribbean Director Carl Soderberg recognized Empowering Communities to Secure Drinking Water in Rural Puerto Rico , a project serving 20 small drinking water systems on the island, for its efforts to provide safe drinking water to thousands of puertoricans. As chair of a federal workgroup on environmental justice, EPA seeks to highlight projects and partnerships that are leaders in addressing environmental inequity in low-income and/or minority communities.

“EPA’s recognition of Empowering Communities demonstrates how effective partnerships among communities, government agencies and academic institutions can be in addressing environmental justice issues,” said Mr. Soderberg.

The Empowering Communities project, formed in 1993 by the Partnership for Pure Water and the Inter American University of Puerto Rico - Center for Education, Conservation & Environmental Interpretation (CECIA), helps rural, remote and low-income communities understand how to protect their drinking water and comply with federal safe drinking water regulations. Mr. Soderberg made the announcement at CECIA’s biennial symposium on small drinking water systems, taking place today and tomorrow at the San Juan campus of the Inter American University.

The 20 communities served by Empowering Communities are often referred-to as “non-PRASA systems” because they do not receive drinking water from the island’s primary supplier, the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA). There are 250 such small drinking water systems in 50 of the 78 puertorican municipalities, serving an estimated population of 180,000. The operators of these systems often have no formal training in the operation of drinking water systems and have few financial resources to make upgrades that would help their systems better comply with the regulations of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Through Empowering Communities , these systems receive public and private funding, and technical and managerial training for their operators.

“CECIA has worked very hard over the last ten years to educate and provide technical assistance to disadvantaged communities, helping ensure safe drinking water for all puertoricans” said CECIA’s director Dr. Graciela Ramirez-Toro .

Empowering Communities partners include: CECIA; the Partnership for Pure Water (representing the non- PRASA communities); the Puerto Rico Department of Education; the municipal governments of San German and Caguas; Rural Housing Improvement; the Inter American University of Puerto Rico campuses of Barranquitas, San German, Metro and Bayamon; the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and EPA.