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The Situation in Puerto Rico: Power, Water, and PROMESA

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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Let me start by expressing my exasperation: If the Twitter hive mind is representative of the thinking of the political class on the natural disaster in Puerto Rico — although, as we shall see, there is very little about natural disasters that is natural — then the country is in terrible trouble; in general, Hurricane Maria is being used as the latest stick to beat the administration dog, and nobody is proposing concrete alternatives to what the administration is doing that would improve the situation of the Puerto Rican people. (To be fair, Clinton proposed sending an unfit for purpose hospital ship, which somebody in the administration with an eye for optics promptly did.) Yglesias, for example, focuses on Trump’s failings as a man and a President, rather than using his undoubted wonkish skills to propose an alternative plan. To the extent the political class focuses on operations at all, it’s at the level of “Treat Puerto Rico like D-Day!” or “If America can put a man on the moon, we can help Puerto Rico!” One likes a can-do attitude, but one can’t help feeling that these hot takes are a bit light on detail.

With that said, here’s a handy dashboard from the Puerto Rican goverment that shows the status of various systems on the island. In this post, I’m going to focus on the two systems that are in the worst shape: Power, at 5% coverage of the island, and water, where coverage differs by region: Metro, 57%; Norte, 29%; Oeste, 20%; Sur, 67%; and Este, 50%. But first, I’m going to look at one factor that differentiates the “natural” disaster of Maria in Puerto Rico from others on the mainland; then I’ll show how that factor affects the power system, and then cascades to affect the water supply.

That one factor is, of course, finance. One difference between New Orleans (Katrina), Florida (Irma), and Texas (Harvey) on the one hand, and Puerto Rico (Maria), on the other, is that only Puerto Rico is under an austerity regime, imposed during the Obama administration. José A. Laguarta Ramírez described this regime (PROMESA) at Naked Capitalism in 2016:

The U.S. House of Representatives approved PROMESA on the evening of June 9, following a strong endorsement by President Barack Obama. The bill, which would also impose an unelected and unaccountable federal oversight board and allow court-supervised restructuring of part of the island’s $73 billion debt, now awaits consideration by the Senate…. Puerto Rico is not the only place, under the global regime of austerity capitalism to face predatory creditors and the imposition of unelected rulers —as illustrated by cases like Argentina, Greece, and post-industrial U.S. cities such as Flint, Mich.— but its century-old colonial status has made it particularly vulnerable and defenseless.

The House vote followed a concerted, carefully timed media push by the Democratic establishment, on the premise that “despite its flaws” PROMESA represents a bipartisan compromise that is, in Obama’s words, “far superior to the status quo.”

ROMESA’s oversight board, which will be staffed by San Juan and Washington insiders with the bondholders’ best interests at heart, is sure to continue to impose draconian austerity measures that have already slashed much-needed social services.

Of course! Austerity! Why did nobody think of this before? Mark Weisbrot in the New York Times:

This board, to which President Barack Obama appointed four Democrats and four Republicans, has now approved an austerity regimen that, if things go according to plan, envisions a second lost decade — in other words, no economic growth from 2005 through 2024. But the plan [reminscent of the austerity imposed on Greece] doesn’t take into account the impact of such austerity, which would add more years of decline. And there’s more: All the budget tightening over the second decade, including cuts to health care and education, would pay only about $7.9 billion of Puerto Rico’s $73 billion debt.

That means that creditors’ lawsuits, which have already been filed, could inflict additional damage and worsen the quarter-century of economic stagnation that is now in the cards. Hedge funds hold much of Puerto Rico’s debt, and since May their claims have been under consideration in a bankruptcy-like proceeding — also under the Promesa act — that does not look any more promising than the oversight board’s plan.

(One of Trump’s earlier tweets — September 25 — read: “Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble.” So it’s pleasing to see that the Democrats’ tender concern for the hedgies and vulture funds is shared across the political spectrum.)

Now let’s look at the effect of this thoroughly bipartisan austerity on the Puerto Rican power system.

The Effect of PROMESA’s Austerity Regime on the Puerto Rican Power Grid

Here’s before and after satellite imagery from NOAA on September 25, showing where Puerto Rico can keep the lights on, and where it can’t:

Holy moley. In words:

Puerto Rico officials say it will likely be four to six months before power is fully restored across the U.S. territory of 3.5 million people…

This week, for the first time since the storm, electrical crews began appearing not just in the capital, but in neighboring Carolina and Rio Grande. Faced with a tangle of downed poles, lines and transformers on nearly every street, it wasn’t clear how much progress they were making.

So, the wires are all down. And why? Deferred maintenance demanded by austerity. Buzzfeed:

That general neglect has been coupled with a more specific one in Puerto Rico’s case: In recent years, as part of sweeping cuts to the government budget, many public services were slashed, including preventative maintenance of the electricity network. That meant trees were left untrimmed and allowed to intertwine with power lines — with disastrous results. After a big storm in the United States, the power company may have one break in the lines every few miles from a downed tree. In Puerto Rico today, the lines are broken every few yards.

So, no. Getting Puerto Rico up and running isn’t anything like D-Day, Or the Moon Landing, for that matter. It’s more like — gawd help us all if this metaphor turns out to be true — rebuilding the infrastructure of an entire country after a war. Like Iraq, say.

Now let’s see how the failure of the power system cascades down to the water system.

The Effect of the Failure of Puerto Rico’s Power Grid on the Water Supply

From the Los Angeles Times:

The collapse of the power system has tumbled down the infrastructure chain, making it difficult to pump water supplies — the water authority is one of the power authority’s biggest clients.

Plan B for pumping water is genators. Yahoo News:

The U.S. territory’s water woes are tied to the collapse of its power grid; electricity is needed to pump, treat and filter water that shows up in household taps.

With the grid incapacitated, diesel-powered generators are needed to clean and move water where it needs to go. But the island does not have nearly enough generators to perform this work, utility officials say, while fuel to run them is scarce.

Here’s a sampling of what people are doing when the taps run dry. The New York Times (I’ve helpfully

The waters stink of excrement. He’s seen fish swim by his stoop. To exit his home he often paddles an abandoned refrigerator like a gondola.

[H]ere on the face of a weedy hill, a gushing spring, one of the few places where people from miles around could find fresh water.

It was only a matter of time before people started showing up suffering the effects of dirty water and rotten food.

A woman washed her daughter’s hair in a roadside waterfall in Utuado, a city of brightly painted concrete homes nestled in a sleepy valley.

“11 o’clock at night!” he proudly exclaimed when asked what time one had to arrive at the ice factory to be first in line for two $1.50 bags of watery ice.

(Even I know that ice in the tropics isn’t always potable.) The danger in all of these cases is waterborne disease:

With nothing coming out of the taps, people have turned to wells and springs, which presents another public health risk, [Erik Olson, director of the Health Program at the Washington, D.C.-based NRDC] said.

“That is shallow ground water that is incredibly susceptible to contamination from sewage and other sources,” he said.

The CDC points out the medical dangers of contamination:

Spokespeople for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention downplayed the risk of cholera (but not of other possible outbreaks). “CDC does not anticipate that Hurricane Maria will result in cases or outbreaks of cholera in Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands, as there was no evidence of the disease on these islands before the hurricane made landfall,” said a statement the CDC asked me to attribute to Sven Rodenbeck, the chief science officer for the CDC 2017 hurricane response. “Nonetheless, the risk of cases or outbreaks of other waterborne, foodborne, or diarrheal diseases is always elevated when there is limited access to safe drinking water, safe sanitations systems, and running water and soap for handwashing.”

No, very little risk of cholera. And here as a sidebar let me take a moment to draw attention to this insanely irresponsible tweet by Paul Krugman (sorry for the sourcing, but I verified Krugman’s tweets):

So, cholera is unlikely, very fortunately. To be fair to Krugman, he retracted — not cholera, conjunctivitis (!!!) — and his retraction got 414 Retweets, versus the 12.3K Retweets for the original falsehood.

And ending on a positive note, this from NPR:

Waves For Water leader Rob McQueen shows them how to create water filtration systems out of very simple materials: a plastic bucket, a rubber hose and a small plastic filter that purifies the water from biological contamination.

On Monday, Richard Colón, better known by his stage name Crazy Legs, and the team will deliver 300 of these water filtration systems and buckets to the more isolated areas in the northwest part of the island. The idea is to train local leaders to show others how to use them. Colón’s friend Boris Culbero says people in remote areas have been drinking water from contaminated creeks.

Very encouraging. Maybe FEMA — or the military — should adopt this technology and scale it out from 300 to 3,000 or 30,000. There’s a concrete suggestion from me!

Conclusion

Here’s what happens in a state that’s not under the austerity knife. Reuters:

In Florida, policymakers directed the state’s utilities to “storm harden” their systems following the devastating 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. One decade and several billion ratepayer dollars later, Irma gave people a chance to see their increased utility bills at work.

Now, as a country, we must pool together resources for a swift response to curtail the devastating crisis at hand. But we must also ensure that as the decimated power grid is pieced back together, this catastrophe—and the far too many that preceded it—were not suffered in vain. The electricity system must be rebuilt for a climate-resilient, clean-energy supporting future, not as a replica of its brittle and underinvested past.

Good thought, but PROMESA isn’t about pooling resources. It’s about giving the bondholders their pound of flesh. As Yves asks: “Wall Street Got a Bailout, Why Not Puerto Rico?”

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

52 comments

  1. flora

    “So it’s pleasing to see that the Democrats’ tender concern for the hedgies and vulture funds is shared across the political spectrum.”

    The current financial system has done so much for Main Street. not.

    “…because despite all of the wrangling and rule making, there’s a core truth about our financial system that we have yet to comprehend fully: It isn’t serving us, we’re serving it.”
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/27/opinion/how-big-banks-became-our-masters.html?mcubz=0

  2. Medon

    US has become a 3rd World country with nukes. $700BB military budget, limited help for Puerto Rico

  3. steelhead

    Thanks Lambert. Excellent points all around. I’ll expand on my thoughts later after I meditate and calm down.

  4. Reify99

    At a dinner party last night I was sitting across from an avid Trump supporter, a knowledgeable guy re radio towers, and to some extent power supply. All of his comments are given ex cathedra though and so when he pronounced that there were two nuclear subs each capable of giving 2.4 gigawatts each into the Puerto Rican power grid I was sceptical. I can’t find that info anywhere. Does anybody know?

    All I could find through google was a FB entry which also mentioned a lot of other assets being deployed. It was obviously defensive of Trump’s response. It specifically mentioned the subs. Somehow I got there through snopes.com. I don’t do FB.

    1. Glen

      An SG9 reactor on a Virginia class sub is rated for 30 MW in wikipedia. The largest nuke plants in the world get to about 1.2 GW per reactor as per an article in power-technlogy.com. I would suggest that 1.2GW from a sub is not possible.

      Each A1B reactor on a Ford class carrier is estimated to be about 700 MW in wikipedia. I suppose you could tie a carrier to the pier and supply power. This has been done before about 85 years ago, but I don’t know about recently:

      https://bremolympicnlus.wordpress.com/2014/12/25/85-years-ago-uss-lexington-provides-power-for-tacoma-christmas/

      This took about 30 seconds to google.

      1. Lyle

        Actually the problem in PR is not generation reports have the generation plants in good shape it is the transmission and distribution network. Transmission runs from the generation plants to the local substation, and distribution runs from there to end user. When you consider that hurricane winds increase with altitude and Maria was already the equivalent of an EF-3 tornado at sea level its easy to see how the transmission (steel tower) network got trashed. Most of the generation plants are on the south side of the island which means the transmission network has to cross the highlands to get to the north side.
        My bigger issue is the inability to pre position communications assets which exist and have bands assigned in small communities. In particular CB radios in the small towns with a small generator, so that they can call for help when the telephone network goes down (once again the cell towers are on high points for max range which meant they also got the highest winds). Messages might have to be relayed if need be but… In essence don’t forget how things were done 40-50 years ago as these were less centralized than modern systems. I do wonder trucks in PR have CB already?
        Then take what the red cross did a bit further (they asked for 50 ham operators to relay welfare messages back to the mainland for posting). At the municipal hqs have volunteer ham operators have a station pre stages to if need be call back to the mainland. Ham radio operators practice for operating in the field so they do know how to do it. However much of the old way of doing things has been forgotten by both the media and the governing officials.

          1. Hana M

            This is a great story on how an analog radio station in PR is weathering the storm.

            “While power outages and damage to cell services have knocked out almost every method of communication, a radio station using old analog equipment has been broadcasting vital information and encouragement since hurricane Maria hit the island.

            Inside are echoes of an earlier age that for now is the norm in Puerto Rico. With power limited to the station’s generator, there is no air conditioning. Electronic frills have been reduced to the minimum. At the reception area, a woman wrote messages for broadcast on a typewriter.

            Anchor Penchi credits such old-school resourcefulness for the station’s durability. He said WAPA stayed on the air because it had maintained its old analog broadcasting capacity alongside its digital equipment.

            Payam Heydari, an expert in radio technology at the University of California, Irvine, said basic analog equipment tends to provide robust transmission over long distances. In comparison, he said, digital technology is highly dependent on electricity to power the relays needed to carry a signal.”

            https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2017/0928/In-Puerto-Rico-one-radio-station-is-broadcasting-hope

    2. The Rev Kev

      What’s the point of having all this power if all the lines that carry the electricity have been destroyed? The locals were forced to cut back on maintenance of keeping the lines clear of tree growth by an austerity policy and now there is the devil to pay – and him out to lunch!
      Does the US Air Force remember how to do food and water drops by parachute anymore by the way? I saw them doing it in Africa decades ago. If the roads have been destroyed as indicted by reports then maybe the military can rededicate some assets from building infrastructure in places like Afghanistan and divert them to US territory to rebuild infrastructure there instead. I don’t think US taxpayers would mind that.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      If the wires are down, generation capacity doesn’t matter (though I’ve heard the subs rumor in the context of asserts deployed in advance). Of course, a deus ex machina that’s at once all-powerful and invisible is often very useful in polemic…

  5. Synoia

    Puerto Rico is probably the defining moment for the Trump administration, and Republican governance in general.

    I’m surprised the Democrats are not all over it, probably they are ignoring it because PROMESA was done under the Obama(R) administration.

    Debts that cannot be paid will not be paid, but only after every effort is made to wring water from the stones, and the debt problem kicked into the next administration.

    1. Big River Bandido

      The Democrats are not “all over it” because they’re blind and deaf to problems caused by austerity, and are equally culpable for those problems.

    1. apberusdisvet

      Ah! reservation or perhaps neoliberal plantation or even Gulag. You have to wonder about the elite agenda and end game. Resettle a majority of the peeps to the US; keep the rest as permanent slave labor; make PR a corporate tax free zone for manufacturing (Big Pharma already there); earn billions.

  6. marym

    Why is USNS Comfort not appropriate? It has water distilling capabilities, and also there have been reports of hospitals and care facilities without power. Is it that it would be logistically hard to get water from/patients to the ship? Not disputing, just wondering.

    In any cases thanks for the post. It’s so important to be looking at systemic causes and remedies.

    1. Mo

      +1

      The Comfort ship could have accepted patients on life support who died in hospital when generators ran out of fuel. It might also have relieved the need to fly cancer patients off-island by private plane (a la Pitbull express).

      It should have been provisioned and sent down before landfall, as there was sufficient warning that this would be a direct hit from a Cat 4 storm from an island reeling from an earlier storm. I don’t get the excuse making for the current USian regime.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      The link was glitched. Here’s the quote:

      TH: On the flip side, others say that sending the hospital ship Comfort was unnecessary — purely symbolic and possibly counterproductive — given that the number of hospital beds was not the problem. What’s your opinion?

      JH: Comfort can add to the solution, but her lack of well-decks and large boats as well as her limited support of helicopter operations means that she has to go alongside a pier to be effective. In the immediate aftermath of a huge storm, pulling into a port that has not been surveyed for underwater obstacles like trees or cables or other refuse is an invitation to either put a hole your ship or foul your propellers or rudders.

      That being said, there was a broad misunderstanding of the Comfort’s mission. She is not an “emergency response ship” but rather a hospital ship. She was built to accompany a large military force into a war zone as part of a buildup over time of capabilities to respond to wartime injuries. She is manned by military and civilian mariners as well as active and reserve medical personnel. It takes time to both man and equip her for sea. Given that there was no certainty where the hurricane would hit, it doesn’t make sense to have readied her prior to its impact.

      1. marym

        Thanks for the additional information. I’m not qualified to speak to the different logistical challenges, but as far as timing, here’s some history.

        Mercy – left San Diego about 10 days after 2004 tsunami
        Comfort – Katrina landfall in Louisiana 8-29-2006: Comfort deployed 9-2
        Comfort – Haiti earthquake 1-12-2010; Comfort ordered to deploy 1-13; left Baltimore 1-16

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USNS_Mercy_(T-AH-19)
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USNS_Comfort_(T-AH-20)

  7. Ur-Blintz

    Lin Miranda, as one would expect, is all over the tragedy in Puerto Rico. https://twitter.com/Lin_Manuel

    … and I am reminded of Matt Stoller’s throrough take down of “Hamilton” ( https://thebaffler.com/salvos/hamilton-hustle-stoller ).

    This would be a good time for Manuel to step up and apologize for transforming one of our most anti-democratic, authoritarian founding fathers into a cultural icon, revered now by millions who haven’t a clue as to what Hamilton actually believed and fought for. He was Trump before the Donald…

    “As Donald Trump settles into the White House, elites in the political class are beginning to recognize that democracy is not necessarily a permanent state of political organization. “Donald Trump’s candidacy is the first time American politics has left me truly afraid,” wrote Vox cofounder Ezra Klein just before the election. Andrew Sullivan argued in New York magazine that American democracy is susceptible, “in stressful times, to the appeal of a shameless demagogue.” Paul Krugman wrote an entire column on why republics end, citing Trump’s violations of political norms. But if you want to understand the politics of authoritarianism in America, the place to start is not with Trump, but with the cool-kid Founding Father of the Obama era, Alexander Hamilton.

    I’m not going to dissect the show itself—the politics of it are what require reexamination in the wake of Trump. However, it should be granted one unqualified plaudit at the outset: Miranda’s play is one of the most brilliant propaganda pieces in theatrical history.

    In 1782 several men tried to organize an uprising against the Continental Congress. The key leader was Robert Morris, Congress’s superintendent of finance and one of Hamilton’s mentors. Morris was the wealthiest man in the country, and perhaps the most powerful financier America has ever known… His chief subordinate in the plot was… Hamilton

    After the war, army officers… had not been paid for years of service. Morris and Hamilton saw in this financial-cum-political crisis an opportunity to structure a strong alliance between the military elite and wealthy investors. Military officers presented a petition to Congress for back pay. Congress tried to pass a tax to pay the soldiers, while also withholding payments owed to bondholders. Hamilton blocked this move. Indeed, according to Hogeland, “when a motion was raised to levy the impost only for the purpose of paying army officers, Hamilton shot it down: all bondholders must be included.”

    Hey Lin, check it out…what was it that Trump said about Puerto Rico’s post-Maria problems?… something about “”billions of dollars” in debt to “Wall Street and the banks which must be dealt with.”

    hmmm…

    1. Synoia

      in stressful times, to the appeal of a shameless demagogue

      Oh Come on, Obama was not that bad.

      1. sunny129

        Sorry. Ur-B is right!

        Obama told GM Bond holders to take hike to please auto union membership. But no such restriction for Bank bond holders! He was a sell out for Wall St. That hypocrisy went unchallenged. Without bailout of AIG, GS would have gone bankrupt! His logo of ‘Change we believe in’ is no different than Donny’s ‘Drain the Swamp’ pre election promise!

        I did vote for him both times but he is just another two bit politician lining his pocket with 450K a piece on the lecture circuit. He showed his true colors by providing jail free card to all Banksters! Elders – Too big to prosecute!

        He is closet crony capitalist just like Bill and Hillary! Just check out the donors list for NY senator Charles Schumaker. Corporate democrats are NO different than GOP crazies! No difference between the WELFARE and the WARFARE parties. They serve the same master – top1%!

  8. djrichard

    They need a metric for cash flow on their status page. Even if the ATM machines are chock full of cash, people can only tap the banks so much.

  9. George Phillies

    The largest difference between the prior disasters and this one is that Puerto Rico is an island, so masses of trucks cannot haul in supplies. Nor can volunteers from neighboring states advance to help. Note that replacing trucks and railroads with helicopters is a non-starter on a tonnage basis. To make life more interesting friends who were visiting appear to indicate — they are still there, and comms are very spotty, so I am obscure on the details — that there had been some sort of a labor action between some of the truck drivers and the island government, and the hurricane did not yet change things.

    1. Lyle

      I wondered about the 20% reporting, and the blame of cell service being down. Could they not send out humvees to pick the drivers up and bring them to work? (again an old fashioned way of doing things, in this case 140 years old, all be it back then the town was small enough and the alerter walked around the town of North Platte NE telling folks they were needed to work on the RR)
      Another thing I read is that the undersea cable termination on PR had its diesel fuel stolen overnight thus complicating telecom off the island, so security is a problem.

    2. marym

      Snopes on trucks and truckers, with multiple links to sources including

      Teamsters

      The Teamsters are doing what they can to improve the lives of our members there. That includes working with Joint Council 16 as well as Local 901 leadership in San Juan to identify ways how the union can help. The Teamsters are also joining together with labor unions from across the nation to identify skilled workers to travel to Puerto Rico next week to provide much needed support in critical areas.

      Huffpo report quote from USAF Colonel Michael Valle

      There should be zero blame on the drivers. They can’t get to work, the infrastructure is destroyed, they can’t get fuel themselves, and they can’t call us for help because there’s no communication. The will of the people of Puerto Rico is off the charts. The truck drivers have families to take care of, many of them have no food or water. They have to take care of their family’s needs before they go off to work, and once they do go, they can’t call home.

      CNBC video report

      There are 3,000 cargo containers here at Crowley, one of the biggest shippers in Puerto Rico…Here’s the problem – the truck drivers can’t get to the terminal to get their containers out…You’re looking at truck drivers who can’t be reached by their businesses by cell phone, they don’t have the gas to get to work, and then even when they do get to work, their semi-trucks don’t have fuel. The problem is the supply chain.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      > replacing trucks and railroads with helicopters is a non-starter on a tonnage basis.

      Thanks; I’d been wondering about this.

      On the job action, this is another stick to beat the union dog for some, but I’ve never seen decent sourcing (though I didn’t research for this post). Honestly, can’t we get some information on what’s happening, and leave it at that?

  10. rd

    The Waves for Water bucket system uses Sawyer filters. The bucket systems are designed to filter about 100-200 gallons per day, enough for a good sized neighborhood. They have smaller, more potable systems designed for just one person to a handful of people. The bucket system components costs about $60 retail (plus cost of buckets) – I am sure it would be a fraction of that wholesale.

    These systems filter out turbidity,bacteria, protozoa, amoebas, and parasite eggs. They don’t filter out viruses (e.g. norovirus) which need a smaller filter. However, the bigger guys cause the vast majority of problems in these types of water supply.

    You can get Steripens retail to help address things like the viruses in water you actually drink. https://www.steripen.com/

    So for $150, you can set up a clean water system for 100-200 people.

    I have a Steripen for international travel. If I lived in a hurricane zone, I would have a full Sawyer set-up packaged in a closet in case of emergency along with the Steripen. That way you are not reliant on bottled water.

    We are seeing a territory that has been returned to the 1800s without the 1800s “technologies” that people used to survive then. They don’t even have horses and donkeys now, so they need gas for cars. Puerto Rico has the opportunity now to reconstruct so that there are more local electrical, water, and sanitary systems instead of the large regional ones that just got obliterated. This would be especially effective for electricity now given solar panels and wind power technology that can be local. They could use the excess power in the day to pump clean water into a local storage tower that could flow back down into a reservoir at the base during the night to generate electricity through a turbine. That water would then also be available for drinking water as well.

    The military and Canada have small package systems that can be delivered by helicopter to provide local clean water and wastewater treatment to isolated communities. However, this goes against the model of the second half of the 20th century to build large centralized plants with extensive piping systems for efficiency.

    1. lyle

      Actually part of a survival kit in PR could be water purification tablets as are used by back country campers.
      Of course in PR if you have empty jugs or the like you could catch rainwater coming off the roof starting a few mins after it starts raining.
      One other thing I saw once is an ATV fording a river, could they use them? Or indeed I did see a video of a guy leading his horse across a stream, presumably the guy could have rode futher to carry messages.

  11. PhilM

    Am I the only one who has found dignified and seemly coverage–complete with numbers, even–of Puerto Rico only in this effort of Lambert’s? Signal to noise elsewhere approaches zero. Does anyone bother to present a fact without a blatant or poorly hidden agenda; or for that matter, to present a fact at all?

    Where are people getting their real news on this, please?

    1. Synoia

      To be picky:

      Signal-to-noise ratio (abbreviated SNR or S/N) is a measure used in science and engineering that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise. S/N ratio is defined as the ratio of signal power to the noise power

      Signal power must be zero to have a S/N ratio of zero. That is: There is no signal.

      1. Angie Neer

        Hi Synoia, I’m a picky engineer, and I don’t understand what you’re picking on regarding Phil’s statement that “S/N elsewhere approaches zero.” That seems a perfectly accurate statement of his point (with which I enthusiastically agree).

  12. Synoia

    The collapse of the power system has tumbled down the infrastructure chain, making it difficult to pump water supplies — the water authority is one of the power authority’s biggest clients.

    When I first went to the BVIs, in 1977, water was caught by the house and the rain water stored in a tank under the house.

    The BVI people believe the USVI people to be crazy to have to pay for a municipal water supply, which captured the rain and sold it to homes.

    The same could be said about Puerto Rico.

    1. lyle

      Agreed for folks who don’t live in cities. My grandparents in Southern IN, where well water was full of sulphur, had a cistern and diverted rain water from the roof into in. lived that way for 60 years,
      Note that rain barrels are common in the western us to reduce water usage. But if you consider that 1 week after the storm a heavy rain event happened the rain barrels could have been kept full. In multi tennant buildings this does not work as well.

    2. fajensen

      Slow Sand Filtration – works in the boonies, without electricity.

      http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/ssf9241540370.pdf
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3560774/

      Since we are all going to be reduced to 3’rd world status soon enough, one can front-run the future a bit and get electricity, heating and water prepared so one don’t need to apply for “micro-financing”, the debt scam for 3’rd-worlders.

      A couple of solar panels and accumulators are useful also, won’t run the entire household machine park but they will keep a radio going and some lights on. A good quality multi-fuel camping stove is very useful too, we used one for two weeks when renovating the kitchen found rotten pipes and everything had to be stripped out.

      Here, where I live, in Sweden, it can happen that the power is out for a week after a good winter storm. Nothing like the disaster in Puerto Rico though, if things are really bad the military will run ambulances with armoured personnel carriers – Being prepared is not like one is just abandoned to market forces like Puerto Rico, but, one’s household has to be able to function during that time as a matter of pride and principle, it also eases the pressure on emergency services that people can handle their own, minor, in the scale of things and with some preparation, problems as far as possible.

  13. Mo

    It reads as if you say PR’s debt ballooned to $73B overnight then Obama passed PROMESA.
    Ergo: Blame Obama.

    Surely there is more background to the story than that? Everyone before and after Obama is somehow blameless?

    Obama did/does suck at many things, but I am not sure he is the sole father of this inhumane austerity regime.

  14. katz

    Clinton proposed sending an unfit for purpose hospital ship, which somebody in the administration with an eye for optics promptly did.) Yglesias, for example, focuses on Trump’s failings as a man and a President, rather than using his undoubted wonkish skills to propose an alternative plan.

    This isn’t how the piece starts, is it? Seems like WordPress made off with a paragraph or two…

  15. Crosley Bendix

    The fact that Puerto Rico is a US colony has almost certainly exacerbated the infrastructure issues there.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I agree, but I needed to keep the scope of the post narrow in order to finish it. I am sure we will have much more to say about Puerto Rico, and its colonial status will be addressed, never fear.

  16. Wellstone's Ghost

    Democracy Now did an excellent show with Naomi Klein and Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzales two weeks ago describing how the big prize in Puerto Rico was the public power utility worth billions. They predicted that the effort by MNCs and the Bondholders would be to privatize the public power company. We shall see.
    They also talked about Mike Pence being the overseer of Post-Katrina New Orleans re-building efforts and how Shock Doctrine capitalism was implemented there.
    More of the same, again. Houston won’t be spared either. If you are poor, you are f’ed.

    1. financial matters

      Yes. It would be great if we could shift the narrative so that disasters would lead to more socially responsible solutions. We will probably have a lot of chances with ongoing climate change.

      Lee Camp [Redacted]‏ @LeeCamp 19 hours ago

      The fact that we debate b/w two for-profit versions of healthcare shows how effective corporate media is at framing health care in the U.S.

  17. financial matters

    Geraldo Rivera seems to be doing some useful investigative work in this politically charged situation.

    @GeraldoRivera Sep 30

    With #SanJuanMayor @CarmenYulinCruz Highly critical of @realDonaldTrump I ask her if she’ll meet @POTUS Tuesday-Watch my intv @foxandfriends

  18. Kevin Walsh

    “Concrete alternatives to what the administration is doing” have come from Russel Honore on the SCALE of the response:

    “HONORE: . . . only about 2,200 federal troops were in support of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Island as of yesterday [9/27/17].
    MARTIN: How many do you think they need?
    HONORE: Puerto Rico is a bigger and tougher mission than Katrina. And we had 20,000 federal troops, 20 ships and 40,000 National Guard. Now you figure that out.”
    http://www.npr.org/2017/09/28/554157428/puerto-rico-relief-efforts-got-off-to-a-poor-start-retired-general-says

  19. Guglielmo Tell

    A few precisions:
    Natalie Jaresco, Maidan’s Miinister of Economy in Ukraine, was the first Director of the Supervision Board for Puerto Rico.
    The US Govt has been ruining Puerto Rican Govt for decades. Everything was being privatised and bought up by American capital, but the Govt of PR now is the one that’s got to pay the debt after being left without sources of income. “Solution”: more privatisations. PR’s Govt’s bonds had no money and no assets to support them, but Wall Street’s-Washington’s mentality is to keep on squeezing further.
    Now all these psychos are busy with starting a war against Venezuela, passing sanctions against Nicaragua (Washington has been condemned by The Hague for 1980s war, ordered to pay Nicaragua 18 billion in 1990 US dollars – not a dime has been paid) and unleashing a new scandal with Cuba accusing it of planting spy devices that “injured American diplomats” – not a single evidence has been presented, much less a culprit (most likely, CIA itself had planted the devices for the US Govt to spy on its own diplomats – if the whole thing has not been invented altogether).

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