It was Friday afternoon in early 2001. My wife and I had recently moved to a three-bedroom house in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, as I had begun working as the public affairs officer at Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water and turned on the spout and . . . nothing. Water service was out.
My wife and I had endured many a water outage in Puerto Rico, so it was not surprising, but it was annoying. This water outage was different, however. The water went out at around 5 p.m. on Friday and inexplicably returned early Monday morning.
Calls to the Puerto Rico Water and Sewer Authority provided little help or understanding regarding what was going on. A pipe had broken in a field, and it was taking crews a while to get there. Service, they said, would be returned by the end of the weekend. Location of the mystery pipe? In a field. Which field? A field.
The following week, like clockwork; the water again stopped flowing right about 5 PM on Friday. It again, mysteriously returned by Monday morning. The problem? A broken pipe in the middle of a field.
Hmm. . . .
With few exceptions, this pattern repeated itself at least twice every month for the entire two years that we were living in that home. Same scenario, same time frame, same mystery pipe in a mystery field.
The running theory is that union members would shut the water off themselves, so the could report an outage and get “overtime pay” for working on a broken pipe that didn’t actually exist. Of course, there is no real evidence to support this theory — only speculation.
Today’s El Nuevo Día reports of an overnight water outage that actually did happen on account of a broken pipe, and they even have pictures. They document a community flooded by a broken water main that began with a sinkhole opening and swallowing a car.
The bottom line is that for decades Puerto Rico has faced serious problems with its infrastructure, but union labor has not brought improvements to any of them. A steep increase in water rates earlier this year may help Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis, but sporadic reports of water outages continue on the island.
Water is only part of the problem. Other aspects of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure are in dire need of emergency work starting with bridges. Dozens on the island are unsafe.
When thrown together with Puerto Rico’s debt and bond crisis, local officials face an almost impossible task. Impossible that is, under the current standard operating procedures of the commonwealth’s government and union labor.
Editor’s note: This story reminds me of my own recent trip to Puerto Rico. After struggling to get a strong internet connection and complaining to the front desk of the hotel, the man there responded glibly: “It’s Puerto Rico.”