SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A deepening drought in Puerto Rico that has affected 2.5 million people forced the government on Wednesday to extend severe water rationing measures to more communities that are already struggling with an economic crisis.
Another 180,000 customers will now receive water only every third day, raising the total facing 48-hour cuts in service to 400,000, as the U.S. territory's main reservoirs continue to shrink, according to the island's water and sewer company.
"We have to keep the water that's available under control," said Alberto Lazaro, the company's executive director.
Nearly 13 percent of Puerto Rico is under an extreme drought and another 39 percent under a severe one, according to The National Drought Mitigation Center.
July was the fourth driest month on record in San Juan since 1898, with only 1.60 inches (4 centimeters) of rain, said Carlos Anselmi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
So far this year, it has rained as much as 12 inches (31 centimeters) less than usual in San Juan, and as much as 20 inches (51 centimeters) less in some areas at the Carraizo reservoir, he said.
Forecasters blame the El Nino phenomenon, a warming of the tropical Pacific that affects global weather and has led to a quiet Atlantic hurricane season, which began in June and ends in November.
The lack of rain has forced some businesses in Puerto Rico to temporarily close, while others, such as motels, have reported a slight increase in customers.
The drought comes as Puerto Rico is struggling through a nearly decade-long economic slump that has led authorities to raise sales taxes, even on bottled water.
Olga Rodriguez, a 62-year-old San Juan resident who lives with her elderly father, has received water only every third day for more than a month now. She worries it will only worsen.
"May God help us all, because we need it," she said in a phone interview.
The rationing measures began when the governor declared a state of emergency in mid-May, and government officials have said customers might see cuts of more than 48 hours if dry conditions persist.
Other Caribbean islands also are struggling with a drought, including Jamaica, St. Lucia and the Dominican Republic.
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