by Sami Kinnunen
I had the opportunity to jump away from the University of Minnesota group and join with another group from the University at Albany SUNY. We went to visit the Corcovada Communal Aqueduct in Añasco, a prime example of community resilience as reflected in their community owned and operated aqueducts high up in Puerto Rico’s central mountain range. When we arrived, the community was working on preparations for Three Kings Day, a community wide event where Puerto Ricans celebrate the coming of the three wise men. Iris and Cesar Irizarry, the respective current and former leaders of the community stepped away from working on setting up decorations to come meet our group. They lead us down a tarmac road and past a chain link fence revealing a plot of 20 solar panels and a small building that housed solar batteries, a groundwater well, and a chlorine disinfection system. Cesar gave our group a brief history of the community’s journey towards self-reliance and sustainability.
In 1967, after years of having to transport potable water from other communities, Cocovada took matters into their own hands and built an aqueduct and a 23,000 gallon water storage tank owned by the community. Corcovada then organized themselves into a non-profit that uses their funds to maintain and upgrade the system to what it is now. Using utility funds and grants from both the Puerto Rican and mainland US government, the initial single groundwater well has been upgraded to include a chlorine disinfection system in 1970, a second aqueduct in 1994, solar panels to operate the pumps in 2015, and a backup battery for the solar panels in 2017. Corcovada has been operating their water system independently for 42 years without losing pressure for more than 24 hours, even after Hurricane Maria. These two aqueducts have provided uninterrupted access to drinking water for 160 families and that number continues to grow.
Corcovada is working to make themselves a pillar of community organization and resilience in Puerto Rico. They just received an $80,000 grant to install solar panels on the roofs of every family’s house in the community. Cesar said to us, “The government and other external resources are there to help us in our development; we, in turn, must work for it”. With this technology, Corcovada is on their way to becoming an entirely self sufficient community.
However, Iris and Cesar’s work doesn’t stop at the edge of their community--they are trying to spread their methods of community organization and sustainable practices to other communities across the world. We finished the tour and went back up to the festival, now completely in full swing. Cesar urged us to make ourselves at home and enjoy the concert and local dishes, just as another tour group like ours arrived. We were very impressed with the work the Corcovada community has done over these past 42 years and are excited to follow their continued path towards sustainability.