When 85-year-old Don Andrés Rodríguez Rodríguez described the place where he grew up, he answered without hesitation.
“Perfect, my community is perfect,” he said.
Rodriguez lives about 3,000 feet above sea level in Bauta Abajo, Puerto Rico, one of the island’s rural mountain communities, where the sky and clouds can seem close enough to touch.
But since Hurricane María devastated Puerto Rico last September, conditions in his neighborhood have been far from perfect.
Bauta Abajo isn’t connected to the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) for water services, so residents like Rodríguez rely instead on power-operated wells. Without power, accessing water is a challenge.
Rodriguez’ community has been without electricity since Hurricane Irma made landfall last year. The island was just beginning to recover from Irma when Hurricane Maria’s Category 4 winds swept through the island two weeks later.
Formerly a farmer of coffee, yautia, plantains, bananas, and flowers, Rodriguez now maintains the decades-old pumps that bring water to the community’s nearly 300 families.
Rodriguez’ history is intertwined with that of his community. He’s helped build several systems to provide drinking water to his neighbors.
In 1968, Rodriguez was one of 12 workers to build the pipeline that routed water from rivers to homes in Bauta Abajo for the first time. That’s one of the four times he recalled the entire community pulling together to move Bauta Abajo forward. The next happened in 1996 when the wells were constructed. Then, when Hurricane María left Bauta Abajo isolated and without resources for weeks, residents rallied, cleaning the debris from the streets. The fourth occurred two months ago when residents heard about Por Los Nuestros, also known as the Foundation for Puerto Rico.
“Por Los Nuestros”
As Puerto Rico began to recover after Maria, a team of local leaders, led by journalist Josué ‘Jay’ Fonseca, politician Manuel ‘Manolo’ Cidre Miranda, Dr.Francisco Arraiza Antonmattei, and lawyers Anabelle Torres Colberg and Nick Pastrana Villafañe, began brainstorming ways to support their island.
Por Los Nuestros was born.
The group identified Bauta Abajo as a community that needed help to regain their access to water. They requested and received a grant from Direct Relief to install renewable energy systems in several communities without power, including Bauta Abajo.
These installations will provide Bauta Abajo with energy to power its water system without needing to rely on power from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.
“We are installing a solar system with battery back up. Therefore, at night, [residents] can activate the system to provide water to the community… Even if there is no sun, they will be able to have energy,” explained Edward Previdi, contractor and electrical engineer in charge of the installation.
The two energy stations in Bauta Abajo will power two water pumps servicing different parts of the community. Solar panels that gather the sun’s energy have been installed in one of the locations, along with batteries and other solar electrical components. A second location had solar panels but lacked the ability to store the energy, so batteries and storage were installed. Construction began in February and both power systems are expected to be operational by April 20.
“This community has worked since day one to help their people.”- Pastrana Villafañe, board member, the Foundation for Puerto Rico
When Rodriguez and other residents of Bauta Abajo heard about the solar project, they welcomed the news and also felt a strong desire to assume an active role in the construction.
“They want to help. They want to seek solutions,” said Pastrana Villafañe, a board member of the Foundation for Puerto Rico. “Since the first day when we arrived, they said ‘ what can we do?’ This community has worked since day one to help their people. They have great leadership.”
Bauta Abajo residents Melvin Vázquez Ortíz and Francisco Alvarado Hernández worked long hours along with other neighbors, in sun and rain, to construct a 160-foot ditch and a cement enclosure to protect the rechargeable battery system.
“Without their help, we would have been here working for two additional days, because we only had four men,” explained Previdi.
For Rodriguez, the hardworking spirit of his community does not come as a surprise.
A year ago, he was still working in the fields. Now, he dedicates his days to administering the water pumps that will distribute water again to his entire community.
When Rodriguez looks around his community, he doesn’t just see roads; he remembers the decades-long effort to maintain and preserve the community he loves — a community that, thanks to the resilience of its residents, has survived the worst nature can throw at it.