Saturday, January 20, 2007

GuardaMar de Puerto Rico, Member of the Waterkeeper Alliance

Who we Are

The Waterkeeper Alliance is an umbrella organization comprised of 155 Keeper programs located throughout the World. They are dedicated to conserving and protecting your water from anyone that contaminates it. Its president, Robert Kennedy, Jr., has had a 20 year commitment to the organization and works tirelessly to safeguard the quality of the water and its availability for future generations.

GuardaMar de Puerto Rico is the local organization which is licensed as a Program of the the Waterkeeper Alliance. In 2002, Mr. Ricardo de Soto became Puerto Rico’s first Coastkeeper. He incorporated the Program and began the arduous task of prioritizing and addressing all the ecological disasters that were negatively impacting the island’s waters. One of his first achievements was the culmination of a campaign that resulted in the creation of the Rincon Marine Reserve. That first incorporation lasted until 2004, when the Board was dissolved for lack of public funding. In October 2006, Mónica Pérez Nevárez offered her services as Executive Director, and the program was incorporated as GuardaMar de Puerto Rico, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the health and integrity of Puerto Rico’s water resources.

What is a Waterkeeper?
Keepers (be they riverkeepers, lakekeepers, coastkeepers, etc.) are full-time, privately-funded, non-governmental advocates for an identified river, lake, bay, sound, coast, creek or watershed. They are recognized by their community, local government, and media as the voice for that particular body of water. They advocate compliance with environmental laws, respond to citizen complaints, identify problems which affect their jurisdictional bodies of water and devise appropriate remedies to address these problems.

This is a picture of Ricardo de Soto during an activity for GuardaMar de Puerto Rico in 2006.

Waterkeepers employ a variety of strategies to curb pollution, including:
§ Monitoring water quality
§ Investigating point and non-point pollution sources
§ Attending municipal board meetings
§ Educating and motivating the public to act on behalf of the water
§ Participating in environmental scoping sessions
§ Devising solutions to water quality problems
§ Pursuing litigation to enforce compliance with environmental laws

Besides being the local Coastkeeper, Ricardo de Soto is also President of ALGA, Alianza Latinoamericana de Guarda Aguas, or the Latin American Waterkeeper Alliance.

What we do
GuardaMar makes sure the Clean Water Act is enforced throughout Puerto Rico’s coastal waters, beaches, rivers, streams, aquifers and watersheds. It has close ties to government, corporate and academic forums that are in the process of planning future development for Puerto Rico, and lobbies to do so in a sustainable and ecologically sensitive way.


· Watershed and Water Sources Management: Includes conservation strategies, Marine sanctuary creation, source protection, reforestation drives and creating clean river delta zones.
· Recycling and Reuse of Used Water Program: Lobbying for the recycling of wastewater for irrigation, better design of water flows from water treatment plant filters, and researching the vulnerability of our coastal waters to assimilate grey water.
· Aquatic Ecosystems: Monitoring near-shore aquatic ecosystems, setting up systems so the health of offshore aquatic communities becomes river-quality indicators, and monitoring their health and condition.
· Water Distribution Systems: Monitoring the island’s water distribution systems, and water demand and capacity.
· Development of Education Programs: Water conservation, water resources, waste disposal and how it affects our acquifers, and environmental protection.
· Coastal Water Studies: studies on gravel and sand extraction, urban runoff, and river restoration.
· Estuaries and Associated Wetlands: Working closely with government entities in charge of our estuaries and associated wetlands, to safeguard water quality.
· Storm Water Infrastructure: Monitor storm water and wastewater drainage systems in sensitive areas.
· Erosion control: Advocates for the effective use of proper erosion control measures in order to protect the islands remaining coral reefs.
· Natural and Marine Reserves: Promotes the creation of “natural” and “marine” Reserves by networking with different environmental organizations and community grassroots groups.

[When (now)] [Where (PR)]

Puerto Rico has basically the same environmental problems that many states of the Union do. But those problems are magnified because Puerto Rico is a 3500 square mile island with a population of 3.9 million people. That’s roughly 1,147 persons per square mile[1] and shows the island’s density comparable only to that of New Jersey, which has an 8.7 million population and an 8,204 square mile area! (All other states have lower densities.) But even that number is deceiving, as 50% of the island population lives in the San Juan metropolitan area, so the true density approximates 2200 persons per square mile in the metro area, akin only to Singapore.

Puerto Rico is faced with a myriad of environmental problems that severely impact the quality of the waterways on and around the island, and yet the local Environmental Protection Agency has been reluctant or unable to enforce environmental laws against either private industry or government water treatment facilities.

The island is home to an unregulated industrial base, and lacks a recycling system of any kind, thus having to process huge amounts of wastes while running out of land to put the landfills on. The toll on the island’s hydrological resources has been enormous. To add to the list of problems, Puerto Rico has seen rampant commercial and tourist-related development, much of it in violation of applicable federal and commonwealth environmental law, and a government that is unwilling to stop it, or to even agree on a Land-Use Plan.

Beach closings and water decontamination alerts are used to prevent under-treated wastewater and untreated rainwater from infecting the population with all sorts of bacterial infections of the skin, eyes, mouth, intestines and skin. Cholera, Typhoid, dysentery, poliomyelitis, meningitis and hepatitis A and B are all carried in human and animal waste that make their way into our storm drains, eventually landing in our rivers and coastal waters. Even beaches with the “Blue Flag” denomination have been found to be too contaminated to swim in (Luquillo, Patillas, Crashboat, El Escambrón) [2]. The situation is worse in the San Jose Lagoon, the Caño Martin Peña and in San Juan Bay [3].

Storm water runoff has been recognized in the continental United States as a significant problem, one that results in elevated bacteria levels and increased illness rates for swimmers. Seventy-five percent of continental beach closings/advisories in 2005 were based on monitoring that detected bacteria levels exceeding beach water quality standards. The situation in Puerto Rico is even more precarious. Storm water discharges from roads, buildings, industrial sites, construction sites, and other impervious surfaces are not processed through a water treatment plants. Similarly, sewage pollution is a constant threat due to old and broken infrastructure.

Storm water starts as rain. As it washes over roads, rooftops, parking lots, construction sites, and industrial or commercial sites, it becomes contaminated with oil and grease, heavy metals, pesticides, litter, and pollutants from vehicle exhaust. On its way to storm drains, it also often picks up fecal matter from dogs, cats, pigeons, other urban animals, and even humans.

A study conducted in South Carolina found that a watershed that was 22 percent covered by impervious surfaces had an average fecal coliform count seven times higher than a watershed that was 7 percent covered by impervious surfaces. The metropolitan San Juan watershed is covered for considerably more than 22 percent. One could argue it is up to 80 % covered (see map below). Also, illicit discharges into the lagoons may include such substances as oil from cars, paint, and grease from nearby restaurants. Unfortunately, despite the magnitude of storm water pollution, the EPA has declined to set baseline technology standards for new construction and development.

This is a ranking of Puerto Rico’s Superfund sites, with 0 being the cleanest, 50 being the US average, and 100 being the dirtiest:

Rank, Site, County, Overall site score


The map at left depicts the density of the waterways in Puerto Rico on top, and the bottom map reflects the density of the road system. Put together you can see how most of the island’s surface is covered with impermeable materials (cement, asphalt) that contribute to storm water contamination directly into the river system.

GuardaMar acts as a de facto ombudsman for all Puerto Rican waters. Its activities are privately funded through membership drives, fundraising events, grants, donors, sponsors of particular campaigns, and settlements from litigation at the local and federal level. It is involved in several campaigns at present: part of the team that is writing the new “Ley de Costas” or Laws of the Coast, it continues to lobby for the Northeast Ecological Corridor, the Urban Marine Reserve and a National Marine Reserve in Rincon, and lastly a campaign to develop Environmental Law Clinics in every University and Law School in Puerto Rico.

Your donation will guarantee that GuardaMar becomes a prominent force for water conservancy on the island, for a better informed public, for a proactive legislature, for cleaner coasts and waterways, for increased litigation in bringing those that pollute our waters to justice, and for new and varied projects and programs that instill conservancy awareness in the Puerto Rican public.

[1] (data found at US Census website at this address:,237

[2] Entre las playas identificadas como no aptas para bañistas por la JCA están La Monserrate en Luquillo, Pico de Piedra en Aguada; Puerto Nuevo en Vega Baja, Punta Santiago, en Humacao; y Crash Boat en Aguadilla. Llama la atención que entre estas playas está la playa La Monserrate de Luquillo en donde está el más famoso balneario del País. Esta playa ostentaba la distinción de Bandera Azul, un reconocimiento que conlleva unos niveles de calidad a nivel internacional. El Vocero, 15 enero 2007.

[3] "The beautiful natural paradise that were our lagoons became, through the years, "a great big septic tank", said Félix Aponte, professor of the University of Puerto Rico’s Graduate School of Urban Planning, and who has researched the environmental condition in that area for many years. Those conditions directly affect the health of the nearly 30,000 residents of the surrounding communities. El Nuevo Día Julio 2006

Go to other related blogs at for membership information, for pictures of La Selva, part of the Northeast Ecological Corridor we are trying to save., for pictures of a radio interview Riki and I had with Ryan Christiansen for WOSO, for our weblog (still in process, but has nice pictures nonetheless.

So come and join us, we can do great things together!

Monica Perez

787-863-5189 or 561-449-3525

Riki de Soto

787-455-0300 or 787- 422-0991

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