SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico's government will impose strict water rationing for parts of the island's capital and surrounding areas if a cluster of thunderstorms headed toward the Caribbean does not generate enough rain, officials announced Wednesday.
More than half of the U.S. territory is experiencing abnormal dryness, with the worst conditions in its southern region and a small area in the northeast.
The lack of rain has caused an estimated $20 million in crop losses, affecting coffee farms and the milk and meat sectors the worst, agricultural secretary Myrna Comas has said.
In June, rain totaled less than an inch, compared with the month's average of more than 4 inches. There has been more rain in July, but the 3.40 inches (8.64 centimeters) that have fallen so far is still down from the average of 4.76 inches (12 centimeters), said Jose Antonio Estrada, National Weather Service meteorologist.
Forecasters say a cluster of thunderstorms in the Atlantic moving toward the eastern Caribbean has a 50-percent chance of becoming a tropical depression by the end of the week. It's too early to know how close it might come to Puerto Rico or whether it would generate enough rain.
The executive director of Puerto Rico's water and sewer company, Alberto Lazaro, said large metropolitan areas in and around the capital of San Juan would be put under rationing beginning Aug. 6 if the storm does not drop enough rain. He said hundreds of thousands of customers would get water every other day. But even on days when water would be available under rationing, customers would likely experience interruptions in service, he added.
"It's an extreme alternative, and that's why we were trying to delay it as much as possible," Lazaro said.
The areas covered by the rationing plan depend on two reservoirs — one that is more than 33 feet (10 meters) below the optimum level and another down nearly 10 feet (3 meters).
The drought also has hit other parts of the Caribbean. Jamaica has reported some $8 million in crop losses in recent months and the government there recently made wasting water a crime and prohibited people from filling up swimming pools and watering lawns.