On the west bank of the Vivi River, in Utuado, Puerto Rico, the remaining chunk of a bridge washed away by Hurricane Maria juts violently and jaggedly, 27 September 2017. Photo: Kirsten Luce / The New York Times

By Rachel Roubein
4 October 2017

(The Hill) – Amid the humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico, most people can’t drink the water.

But even before a Category 4 hurricane slammed the U.S. territory, the island’s water supply was in serious trouble.

Some 55 percent of Puerto Ricans still don’t have access to drinking water as of Saturday, and concerns are rising over the potential for waterborne illnesses. Prior to the storm, though, the island had the worst rate of drinking water violations of any state or territory, a result of outdated infrastructure, pollution and underinvestment, experts said.

"With the hurricane taking out so much of the island's drinking water infrastructure, we're again seeing the very harsh reality of what years of underinvestment and a failure to address this problem can result in,” Adrianna Quintero, the director of partner engagement for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said.

In 2015, nearly 70 percent of the population got their water from sources that violated federal health standards in 2015. These include having high levels of bacteria and other contaminants, according to a May report from the group.

Congressional Democrats have urged President Trump to do more to help out Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents. On Tuesday, Trump and other members of the Cabinet traveled to the island after a Twitter feud between the president and San Juan’s mayor

While there, Trump made a reference to the island’s debt, which totals $74 billion, indicating it could complicate federal budget requests for disaster relief.

"I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you threw our budget a little out of whack, but that's fine," Trump said, according to a White House pool report. […]

In Puerto Rico, a “toxic mix” of “poverty and lack of access to clean water practically guarantees that you're going to see outbreaks of waterborne infections, particularly waterborne diarrheal disease,” said Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. [more]

Hurricane Maria worsens Puerto Rico's water woes

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