Torrential rains from Hurricanes Irma & Maria (almost 38” at one location near Cayey) scattered debris into drainage ways across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, causing waterways to overflow their banks and wreaking havoc in coastal areas. Through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWPP), NRCS is working with communities in these hard-hit areas to remove debris, stabilize streambanks and fix water control structures. We have put together a team led by State Engineer Damaris Medina and acting Caribbean Area Emergency Watershed Protection Program Coordinator, Edwin Martinez-Martinez, supported by our local NRCS and ACES engineers and engineers on detail from across the country.

Our communities are facing numerous challenges to our efforts to recover, including the lack of availability of contractors and construction materials, logistical challenges with local government agencies (many of which sustained significant damages to their offices and records), and the looming start of the 2018 hurricane season. But despite these challenges, NRCS has been empowering our partners to become EWPP project sponsors.

Our EWP team has met with over 25 municipalities, is coordinating efforts with local Soil & Water Conservation Districts, and is making significant progress with not just locally-led and force accounts, but also with federal contracting,” said NRCS Caribbean Director, Edwin Almodóvar.

In the 7 months since the storms, the NRCS Caribbean EWPP Team has partnered with Municipalities, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, and local Conservation Districts to complete over 90 EWPP exigency (urgent & compelling) projects in Añasco, Barranquitas, Caguas, Coamo, Gurabo, Juana Diaz, Naranjito, Utuado, Jayuya, Santa Isabel and Yauco; 25 funded through EWP and the rest funded by municipalities and/or other federal agencies.

Today marks my 3rd month working as the acting Caribbean Area EWPP Program Coordinator while providing assistance to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Team in NHQ,” said Edwin Martinez-Martinez on April 17th. “It has certainly been an amazing experience, full of challenges but worth every second. There is still a lot of work to be completed, however we are making significant progress each day and have a clear sense of direction.