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Cultivo de Arroz en Puerto Rico: El Renacer de una Empresa Agrícola

3 thoughts on “Cultivo de Arroz en Puerto Rico: El Renacer de una Empresa Agrícola

  1. Dear Dr. Harmsen: Greetings from Tennessee. Although I will be in PR the day of the seminar on the rice growing program, a prior commitment will not allow me to attend the activity. This is sad because of my interest on this subject. I have great concerns about the viability of this program with the existing infrastructure to provide water, and also on the economic viability of growing rice in PR to sell at cometitive prices anywhere. I wrote both a paper and in my web page Recursos de Agua de Puerto Rico a paper showing that during the dry season and for about 4-5 months every year there is now just enough water in the Lajas Canal to sustain the PRASA intakes (almost 8 Mgd) and the minimal agricultural irrigation of about 5 mgd’s. Groundwater is not an abundant or reliable resource in the Lajas Valley, and attempts to increase withdrawals will result in additional saline water intrusion in the Lajas Valley. Although there is plenty of water in the basins that feed the Southwestern Project and the AEE hydropwer units, 80 % of this water is discharged to the ocean from Lake Loco due to lack of storage space in the reservoirs of the basins. PRASA conducted a detailed investigation that shows that there is a potential for development of a water storage reservoir in the Lajas Valley to capture this runoff and use it for irrigation. Without significant improvements to the Lahas Canal and the construction of this reservoir, the planned rice development program in the Lajas Valley will be another failure similar to what happeded on the North Coast in the 80’s, which was doomed from day 1 due to lack of water during the extended dry season. I have voiced these concerns to the Department of Agriculture with no reaction.

    Cordially,

    Ferdinand Quiñones, Hydrologist, PE
    fquinon@msn.com

  2. Dear Ferdinand,

    Greetings and thank you for your comment. I am very interested in what you wrote about an insufficient water supply for the irrigated rice. Your suggestion of creating more storage capacity in the Lajas Valley is an excellent idea. I recall that Dr. Perez Alegria of our Department gave a talk that I heard, in which he presented results from a study to grow “Energy Cane” in the Lajas valley for biofuel. His conclusion was that the Lajas Valley irrigation system would not be able to provide enough water for the sugar cane.

    You mentioned a paper you wrote on this topic. Can you send me a copy?

    I have a few questions, if you don’t mind?
    1. Do happen to know the approximate cost a farmer pays for water from the PRASA irrigation systems?
    2. Is there any talk of repairing the irrigation system on the south coast. I recall that the canals that pass through the experimental station at Fortuna are broken and non-functional.
    3. Is the U.S. EPA still enforcing a moratorium on constructing water supply wells in the southern coast aquifer? Is the moratorium limited to near the coast or is it the entire alluvial aquifer system? What can a farmer do if they are not close to one of the irrigation channels and they can’t install a well? Seems to me that farming would be impossible.

    Thanks!

    Eric

    P.S. I also won’t be able to make it to that meeting on Friday.

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      Dear Eric:

      Greetings. I was quite busy last week until Saturday while in Puerto Rico, and did not get to address your email below until today. Relative to your questions:

      1. I think you meant PREPA instead of PRASA on water irrigation costs. I have not checked their more recent rates, but the last time in 2005 we qouted them when doing the study of the SouthWest Project and Lajas Valley, and it averaged $200 per acre-feet. There is a special rate for certain farmers with antiquity or water rights. Yesterday I wrote an email to a friend at PREPA asking if he can provide the current rates, and as soon as I get them will send them over. PRASA does not provide water directly for irrigation, but whoever buys it from PRASA taps, the rates are very high, increasing with usage, starting at about $2.50 per cubic meter. With 1,234 m3 per acre-feet, it grows to big money quickly. Also, farmers are exempt from paying DNER fees if they have their own wells (many in the south coast) or authorized stream franchises (few).

      2. I do not know of any plans by PREPA to repair the irrigation canals in any of the three irrigation districts in the Southern Province (Patillas-Carite; Costa Sur; and Lajas Valley). In some of these systems losses are as much as 50 % (in reaches), but PREPA is essentially broke and it is not one of their priorities. In the Isabela Irrigation Districts, about 50 % of the water discharged to the main diversion canal at Lake Guajataca is lost in transit. In all of these districts, excepto in the Lajas Valley, PRASA is PREPA’s main customer of water from either the lakes of the canals. There are USGS gaging stations at several points in each canal that monitor de flow, and it is possible to estimate the losses. At the Patillas Canal, while reviewing a report prepared by CSA for PREPA, I questioned the estimates of residual water that must be left to supply farmers, and this triggered a “seepage” study by the USGS that shows moderate losses of about 30 % between Patillas and Guayama.

      3. EPA does not have jurisdiction over the withdrawal of water from the aquifers in PR (or any state). They can enforce shut downs of contaminated wells used for public supply or agriculture. DNER is the agency that issues the well permits and franchises in PR, and the Secretary of DNER issued back in November 2013 an order to prohibit the drilling of any new wells in the aquifers east of Juana Díaz into Guayama. The moratorium does not impact the western aquifers in Guánica and beyond, including the Lajas Valley (where ground water is scarce and not too good), nor the North Coast. The decision by DNER was endorsed by the USGS due to a combination of salinity intrusion and drawdown of the aquifers, particularly from Salinas to Juana Díaz. But the same is happening from Dorado to Manatí and a moratorium was not issued for those areas. I think a farmer in need of irrigation water due to lack of water in the irrigation canals can make a good case with DNER if an aquifer test is conducted demonstrating that the proposed withdrawal of ground water will not have adverse effects on increasing salinity or a significant drawdown. This means small capacity wells or several wells (like 4-inch wells at 50 gal/min. It gets expensive between the aquifer test and the drilling of multiple wells.

      I am sorry to have missed the simposium on the rice program for the Lajas Valley last week, but the head of PRASA asked me to substitute for him at the Water Day celebration at Plaza de Armas at old San Juan last Friday. I did meet Wednesday with the head of the Land Authority at the request of the Sec of Agriculture to explain to him the basis of my conclusions that the rice program in the Lajas Valley is doomed without significant improvements to the infrastructure of storage and distribution of water from the Southwest Project. I am sending him a copy of the study conducted by PRASA for the Dept of Ag in 2005 to determine the available water for the Lajas Valley (particularly during droughts) and alternatives to increase the storage and delivery of water for agriculture. If you are interested I can send a copy.

      Cordially,

      Ferdinand

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