The 2019 Report Card for Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure was released today for the first time by the Puerto Rico Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), giving eight categories of infrastructure an overall grade of a ‘D-.’ Energy received the lowest grade of ‘F,’ meaning the system’s infrastructure is in unacceptable condition and has widespread advanced signs of deterioration. It is the first time ASCE has conducted an evaluation of the island’s infrastructure.
Civil engineers evaluated the following categories to reach a cumulative grade of ‘D-’ : bridges (D+), dams (D+), drinking water (D), energy (F), ports (D), roads (D-), solid waste (D-) and wastewater (D+).
The report finds much of the island’s infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life, and infrastructure networks are still be rebuilt after hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the island in 2017. Water and water resources infrastructure is of particular concern. In 2018, 65,697 water leaks and pipe breaks were reported, for an average of 4.38 leaks or breaks per mile of installed line, or 180 leaks per day. Additionally, 97% of dams are high-hazard potential, meaning failure would result in loss of life. An estimated 40 to 60% of storage capacity in water reservoirs is lost due to sedimentation build up and an estimated 58% of non-revenue water is lost as a result of leaky pipes, tank overflows and other issues. As a result, residents are subjected to water rationing nearly every year, despite significant annual rainfall.
Bridges were also found to be in poor condition. Puerto Rico is home to four of the nation’s top 250 most travelled structurally deficient bridges, with two in the top 10. Only 19% of Puerto Rico’s bridges are in good condition.
Meanwhile, Congress has appropriated $42.5 billion dollars to FEMA for recovery efforts, but Puerto Rico has only $15 billion dollars as of May 2019. Puerto Rico is limited in what it can do financially to rebuild and revitalize the island’s infrastructure because the island is structured under tier 2 of the Puerto Rico Oversight Financial Oversight and Management Board (PROMESA), which has fiscal control over the island due to the island’s bankruptcy proceedings.
To modernize the island’s infrastructure and support economic growth and competitiveness on the island, the report calculated that Puerto Rico must increase received investment by $1.23 billion to $2.3 billion annually—or $13 to $23 billion over 10 years. However, when considering deferred maintenance and hurricane-related recovery projects, the investment gap is even larger. The report stresses the need for the island to rebuild smarter by building to adequate codes and standards, acquiring funding from all levels of government and incorporating resilience into infrastructure plans by using climate-resilient materials.
“A ‘D-’ grade for our island is unacceptable, but I hope this sounds the alarm to policymakers of what is needed to modernize our infrastructure. ASCE provided solutions that we can adopt to raise the grade” said State Sen. Larry Seilhamer- Rodríguez, P.E. “Congress has a part to play in directing training, further technical expertise and resources to Puerto Rico to ensure the continued recovery of the island. It is imperative, looking forward, that Puerto Rico and Congress spend the remaining funds on resilient and sustainable infrastructure projects to better protect against future hazards.”
The lowest grade in the Report Card was energy, with an ‘F.’ Hurricanes Irma and Maria destroyed much of Puerto Rico’s electric grid in 2017, causing the island to experience the longest blackout in American history and the second-longest blackout across the world; some areas on the island had no electricity until 11 months after the storm. In August of 2017, Puerto Rican officials estimated that $1.6 billion was needed in overall infrastructure investment to meet the economic goals needed to prevent bankruptcy. Hurricane Maria’s impact one month later increased the funding required to improve infrastructure. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) proposed a $20 billion plan to renovate the energy grid on the island. Thus far, funding has been provided to restore electricity access, but the resulting grid is fragile, and blackouts are frequent.
“Looking at these dire grades across all categories, I believe we have an opportunity here to make our island more resilient, sustainable, improve our economy and be better prepared when the next disaster strikes,” said Héctor J. Colón De La Cruz, EIT, ASCE Puerto Rico Section President and Puerto Rico Infrastructure Report Card Chair. “By following the recommendations in this Report Card – such as having a long-term comprehensive infrastructure plan approved and followed by the government, adopting a life-cycle approach for infrastructure and revising Puerto Rico’s design standards to adopt modern industry standards—as well as ensuring resilience is built into grid operations, we can extend the service life of our assets and decrease costs in the long term. However, we need everyone –including the federal government—to step up.”
Puerto Rico’s failed energy infrastructure did not start with the 2017 hurricanes; the existing grid was already in disrepair and experienced frequent outages. Coupled with the 2017 events, the electric grid reached the point of total failure. Puerto Rican authorities have since focused their efforts on short-term goals of restoring power as quickly as possible. ASCE supports recent findings from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that any grid investment must be accompanied by policy, guidance and regulations that yield grid resilience consistent with industry standards. To facilitate smart building, ASCE published a series of codes and standards for grid design and construction, such as ASCE 7, to better enable Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure to withstand future storms and other stresses. Additionally, the ASCE report also finds:
• Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) lacks sufficient funding for capital-intensive wastewater infrastructure repair and replacement, causing more frequent leaks, overflows and breaks than the national averages.
• Puerto Rico’s already fragile ports infrastructure suffered severe damage as a result of the hurricanes. The estimated cost to repair all ports throughout the island is over $750 million.
• Capacity at existing landfills is an urgent concern, especially after hurricanes Irma and Maria produced approximately 2.5 million tons of debris, or 2.5 to 3 years’ worth of solid waste that was then disposed of at landfills. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found in 2018 that there is less than five years of remaining capacity at active landfills across the island.
While most of the island’s infrastructure systems are in poor condition—exhibiting significant deterioration, the report describes opportunities to rebuild its infrastructure with a focus on resilience. The following are some solutions to the island’s infrastructure challenges:
• Increase the resilience of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure by building to ASCE standards, incorporating life-cycle cost analysis into projects and by maintaining our existing assets, which will extend the useful life of our assets and decrease costs in the long-term. Increase drinking water infrastructure’s capacity and delivery.
• Improve and increase the technical expertise at agencies that own and operate infrastructure so that they can complete regulatory requirements. There should be an emphasis of workforce training to operate and maintain the island’s roads, dams, solid waste, drinking and wastewater infrastructure.
• Solid waste infrastructure needs immediate action and significant funding. Landfills in Puerto Rico are often lacking updated permitting or are unregulated, resulting in non-compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards.
• Develop comprehensive maintenance programs and asset management databases, which can help determine total funding and maintenance needs.
• Establish a Puerto Rico Infrastructure Plan with clear priorities and strategies to achieve them. This plan should be developed with input from a wide variety of stakeholders.
The Report Card for Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure was created as a public service to citizens and policymakers to inform them of the infrastructure needs in their state. Civil engineers used their expertise and school report card letter grades to condense complicated data into an easy-to-understand analysis of Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure network.