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Technology & Entrepreneurship

Texan Recounts Difficulty Bringing Water To Puerto Rico

Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio
Moses West in the TPR Studios

For six months, Moses West said he was producing water 10 hours a day from his atmospheric water generator — a 20-foot-long trailer that produces water from humidity in the air by cooling it and collecting the condensation.

West says the grueling days of filling and then loading the two gallon Federal Emergency Management Agency jugs into cars took their toll on him. He lost 20 pounds.

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It took a toll on his water generator, too. The unit suffered an electrical system failure after months of irregular electrical generation from diesel and solar. West traveled back in Texas in early July to find or order the correct parts.

Vieques is considering buying smaller water generation units from West’s company Paladin Water, and FEMA has written about combining the technology with solar generators.

Since he left, he said employees from FEMA, the city of Vieques, and the governor's office have called to find out what he needs to continue.

“Everyone finally realized the significant amount of water it was producing and providing for the island,” he said. “It was basically a backup municipal supply of water.”

West said the number of people he served continued to grow despite the city’s slow recovery. In a single day, he said he could produce enough water for one-seventh of the island’s population to drink. According to estimates from disaster relief personnel, Vieques has lost more than 20 percent of its 9,000 residents. It now is home to around 7,000 people.

West plans to return with the necessary parts in the next two weeks to ready the generator for hurricane season. But he won’t be operating the generator every day anymore. Operating the device on his own and being ready for the next big hurricane can’t be done simultaneously, he said.

“When a Category 5 hurricane hits, you better be fresh,” he said. “You better be ready to stay awake for two or three days. You can’t go into that situation being exhausted. You can’t do it.”

West said as word gets out about his success in Puerto Rico, he received calls from across the country, including Flint, Michigan. He said helping the residents of that city that would be his next project.

Paul Flahive can be reached at paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive