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Challenges and Opportunities in San Juan Bay

2012 April 25

By Nancy Stoner

Last week, I visited the San Juan Bay National Estuary Program office in Puerto Rico and took a tour of the estuary with the program’s director, Dr. Javier Laureano. San Juan Bay was the first tropical island estuary to become part of the National Estuary Program and, it contains coral communities, seagrass beds and mangrove forests – all habitats designated critical areas. The San Juan Bay program also faces some significant environmental challenges, but Dr. Laureano and his team are making tremendous progress through their partnerships with commonwealth and municipal officials, the local water and wastewater utilities, and dedicated community groups.
We started the day with a boat tour of the waterways that connect to San Juan Bay. It’s an oasis in the Puerto Rico’s largest urban center with almost no development and lots of wildlife, but with significant contamination issues from sewage and stormwater. The National Estuary Program has requested $1.2 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to track all of the sources of untreated sewage into the waterway. We also saw a number of new eco-tourism businesses that the National Estuary Program has helped get off the ground.

A hallmark of this program is its focus on developing economic opportunities for many of the communities located within the National Estuary Program study area because of the poverty they face. In this case, many of the local neighborhoods lack sewage treatment and have clogged stormwater drains as well, so the storms flood the streets, homes and even schools with sewage-laden water.

The trash in the Martin Pena Channel that flows into San Juan Bay and is so deep that you can walk across the former stream at many points. It is a health hazard that EPA is working in partnership with many, including effective community leaders, to address, but it’s a big job and presents a significant financial challenge for this impoverished community.

I also joined EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck and Assistant Administrator Craig Hooks for a meeting and walking tour with representatives of community groups, a visit to a community garden where university students tutor children in the neighborhood and a trip to eroded coastal areas where the National Estuary Program is planting mangrove trees to stabilize and protect the coastline. These projects are a few examples of the great work underway to restore and protect one of the country’s most unique ecosystems in the United States.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Edgardo Berraz permalink
    April 25, 2012

    It would a complete pity who so beauty place,very near of a populous Pto.Rico haupstadt and therefore so important as a lung for this acumulous of people could be degraded by an incorrect use of water resources or sewage.It’s the more of importance take care by avoided these factors.Good luck for whose working in the project.

  2. Pedro Cortes permalink
    April 25, 2012

    Being a local person, I know a little better the situation. Our population in the area has been very positively affected by the SJ Bay Estuary Program in terms of gaining knowledge of the environmental issue within their community. Years prior to the SY Bay Estuary Program development, the community lack of knowledge of their acts and how they impacted the environment.

    As an example, using the waterway as landfill, the uncontrolled flow of waste water to waterway, no sewers on the area. affected greatly the area for many years. Lack of knowledge created a culture of lack of interest in preventing the contamination. Now, decades after the situation was started, finally community organizations, in agreement with other govermental groups and the creation of the SJ Bay Estuary Program group, will drive the effort in the right direction. Solution is on its way. We have to keep on working hard.

  3. May 23, 2012

    sometimes people are not aware of what they are doing to the nature ,this does not come from their bad willing but by their ignorance on the special field. And i think this is the situation in San Juan Bay. It is important to try to change this situation and i want to wish good luck to the group that is working on these project, because protecting our environment is the best job in the world

  4. Steve Moore permalink
    May 25, 2012

    Having just returned from 5 months in Puerto Rico, and planning to return again soon, I can speak directly to some of the issues affecting the lagoon system. I was working as a charter captain, guiding clients fishing for tarpon in Laguna La Torrecilla and Laguna San Jose and would have to bring my clients daily through some of the nastiest, smelly waters I have ever witnessed. These areas have large, 6-foot sewerage outfall pipes pushing thousands of gallons of untreated waste water a day into the lagoon system, while local fishermen wade downstream literally feet away catching fish and crabs for personal and commercial consumption. I was asked time and time again by clients how this could be allowed to happen under the watch of the EPA and the Clean Water Act. I had no answers for them.

    I had the absolute pleasure of having Robert M. Nyman, Director New York – New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program Office onboard my boat one night while he was vacationing in the area. I took some extra time to travel around by boat with Mr. Nyman, pointing out some of the source points I have identified as being particularly egregious and he was kind enough to forward my contact information to Yolianne Maclay and Sergio Bosques in hopes that they would contact me. I offered to take anyone from the EPA for a boat ride and point out these same areas so that something can be done. To date, I have heard nothing from anyone other than Mr. Nyman who has continued to follow-up with me. I was recently traveling home and happened to catch a radio interview with Judith Enck during which she stated the EPA’s awareness of some of the issues and the challenges the San Juan area faces. While I appreciated hearing the words, I have never once seen an EPA presence anywhere in the lagoon system and those thousands of gallons of raw sewerage continue to spew into the water on a daily basis. Please let me know what I can do to help make this stop. I continually saw millions of Federal dollars flowing into Puerto Rico on a regular basis in the form of brand new boats for police and law enforcement. More boats than they had manpower to operate all while this human waste continued to flow into the waters. I’d love to get involved any way I can.


  5. June 5, 2012

    There are many wonderful places out there and it’s a pity when you see the people ruin their beauty. I have been on south of Albania, on the south-west of the Balkan Peninsula, Europe, because there are great and amazing beaches there, but the people didn’t take care of the environment. What a shame.

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