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2012 EPA Research Progress Report

Water Systems in Puerto Rico

Two 55-gallon drums for sand filtration are always in service while a third is undergoing backwash. Pictured is University of Puerto Rico student Daniel Concepcion, who studied the filtration system.

EPA researchers are customizing innovative water treatment systems to help better protect people living in small communities in Puerto Rico that currently rely on untreated sources of drinking water, making them vulnerable to periodic outbreaks of waterborne diseases.

To offer sustainable solutions to the water quality challenge, EPA scientists aimed to design treatment systems that could serve local populations. For example, they sought systems that would be inexpensive, fabricated from local parts and supplies, and easy to build, operate and maintain—such as systems that could be operated via gravity or solar power.

The researchers delivered. The result of their work was the creation of two “slow” sand filtration systems constructed in a remote location in Rio Piedras. The systems not only provide a locally sustainable, clean drinking water supply, they also serve as demonstration and training centers for surrounding communities and water system operators.

The slow sand filter installation at Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico is powered by on-site solar panels.

Researchers plan to further customize their designs to address filtration needs of specific contaminants facing certain rural communities, such as naturally-occurring arsenic. The long-term objective is to create versatile systems that can be used by small communities anywhere in need of reliable, low-cost, and low-maintenance water purification systems.

Currently, the researchers have focused on nearly 250 local Puerto Rico water systems that are not under the regulation of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA). A third of these “non-PRASA” systems either offer no treatment or have treatment systems that are out of order or not in use. Economical and technical challenges, including a lack of electricity, make it impossible to integrate traditional treatment systems into these communities; this makes the impact of EPA’s research results critically important.

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