Success Story

Bringing Portable Water Treatment to Hurricane-impacted Puerto Rico

EPA recognized the need for turn-key water treatment system capable of being transported and quickly set up to provide safe drinking water. In 2015 EPA entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with WaterStep to develop an affordable, modular, mobile water treatment technology system specifically designed for use in rural areas, in developing countries, and in emergency response efforts. This CRADA developed a modular, mobile water treatment technology system known as a “Mobile Emergency Drinking Water Treatment”. EPA’s role in the CRADA has been to provide technical assistance and logistical and environmental sampling and analysis support. WaterStep took the lead in designing the mobile treatment cart and provided the engineering and fabrication.

The importance of delivering safe drinking water is a concern around the world, but it is of paramount importance to environmental and human health concerns in developing countries and in disaster-ravaged areas. The USEPA has had a long-standing interest in supporting communities in their efforts to rebound from man-made and natural disasters. One area of significant focus has been and continues to be on addressing the serious water contamination implications of natural disasters and ensuring that a ready supply of safe drinking water is available until the water utilities are back online.

CRADA Outcome

Recently hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Marie significantly impacted Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and brought to light the importance of providing safe drinking water to those impacted by the storm. The impact to Puerto Rico by Hurricane Marie was particularly severe because of the complete power loss and almost all the drinking water utilities disabled. In addition to physical damage to the utilities, the storm also caused potentially harmful pollutants to enter sources of drinking water.

As a result of this technology transfer, the Emergency Mobile Water System was designed and prototypes were built. WaterStep realized that it could help the people suffering from the lack of potable drinking water so, within days after Hurricane Marie passed through, it deployed multiple Mini Water Treatment Units (Mini) (a version of the Emergency Mobile Water System) in Puerto Rico. These units are a rapid-deployment option and provide system redundancy for disaster relief organizations, water utilities, or others responsible for providing safe water. Each Mini includes everything needed for quick assembly and operation and can deliver safe drinking water within 30 minutes of set-up. Each unit has a solar panel and a chlorine generator, so even as the country works to restore power to utilities, the water treatment units can provide up to 10,000 gallons of drinking water per day. WaterStep joined with the National Puerto Rico Leadership Council Education Fund to install the Mini treatment units. As a result, the council made a commitment to purchase and install units at 78 Puerto Rican municipalities and train local officials and emergency response workers to use them. This collaboration has had a significant impact on the communities and the people of Puerto Rico.