Safe Water in Puerto Rico: Gravity & Sand Filtration System

Commitment by IsraAID

In 2019, IsraAID committed to provide secure, clean drinking water to the community of El Real in Patillas, Puerto Rico through the construction of a slow-sand, gravity-based filtration system. The community of El Real is not connected to the public water system in Puerto Rico, and its community-managed water system was badly damaged in Hurricane Maria, leaving the community without a reliable source of drinking water. Constructed in partnership with the Inter American University of Puerto Rico (IAUPR) and the El Real Water Committee, the new filtration system will provide more than 1,000 community members with clean water. After construction is completed, IsraAID and IAUPR will conduct comprehensive testing to ensure the functioning of the system and work with the El Real Water Committee to fully transition management of the system to the community, ensuring the long-term sustainability of the system.



Safe Water in Puerto Rico: Gravity & Sand Filtration System



Est. Duration

2 Years

Estimated Total Value



Latin America & Caribbean


Puerto Rico

Commitment by


Partner(s) of the Commitment Maker(s)

El Real Water Committee; Inter-American University of Puerto Rico

To ensure water security for the community of El Real, IsraAID, in partnership with the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, is working to build a slow-sand, gravity-based water filtration system. This system, placed next to the existing water tank, will allow 1,400 community members to access safe water, without relying on electricity and with minimal maintenance costs.

IsraAID and IAUPR will fully transition ownership of the system to the El Real community through a multi-phase approach. First, IsraAID will train three water committee members; two construction staff; and six community ambassadors who will help build awareness of the system in the community. After construction of the system is completed, IsraAID and IAUPR will lead a testing and monitoring phase to ensure the proper functioning of the system. The partners will test that water flow meets community demand, and ensure that water quality is in compliance with international health standards. Over the next three months, daily testing will become the responsibility of the El Real Water Committee, with monthly quality tests conducted by the IAUPR.

In parallel, the Committee will meet on a monthly basis and will monitor the overall functions of the system; through the duration of this Commitment, IsraAID will support the committee in developing a reading system and a differential payment service system for the community, which will allow them to cover future expenses related to maintenance.

Each partner brings unique expertise to this commitment. The El Real Water Committee manages the community's water system and represents the community. The CECIA department (Environment and Conservation) of the InterAmerican University has researched Puerto Rico's non-PRASA systems for 15 years. IsraAID brings years of experience building gravitational water systems in communities impacted by natural disaster.

December 2018: Complete the construction and installation of the slow sand filtration system.
January 2019: Launch and inaugurate system, with the official launch ceremony planned for January 27.
January-March 2019: Testing phase, working closely with the local community’s WASH ambassadors.
March-June 2019: Record measurements of the system, further implementation of the sustainability model.
January to August 2019: Continued maintenance of system and training of water committee and community.
Ongoing until March 2020:
(1) Monitoring and evaluation by the University to assure quality of system, needs, maintenance, community satisfaction, etc. The maintenance consists of measuring the usage of water in households, testing the water for quality and levels of chlorine, making sure there are no blockages, adjusting the sand levels and generally making sure it's functioning properly at all times.
(2) Ongoing support and coordination with the El Real Water committee members.
(3) Ongoing water operators practical to community volunteers by the University.
(4) Awareness-raising activities with the water committee.


In September 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, devastating the island. Winds of over 150mph and torrential rain, felled trees, decimated buildings, and removed roofs from homes. Maria is reported to have caused approximately $90 billion in damage; destroyed 230,000 homes; and caused over 60 direct fatalities, with death toll rising to nearly 4,000 in the following months.

In Puerto Rico, three percent of the island's population is not covered by the national Puerto Rico Aqueducts and Sewers Authority (PRASA) public water system; instead, these "non-PRASA" communities use their own communal water systems. These electric systems pumped water from ground wells into tanks, chlorinated it, and then distributed to households. However, after Maria, when there was limited access to electricity and with the high cost of generators and lack of diesel, the systems were unable to pump, and communities were left without access to safe water.

In November 2017, IsraAID's WASH experts evaluated the water systems in the district of Patillas, in the South East of Puerto Rico, focusing on non-PRASA systems. Many of these communities were in areas badly damaged by Hurricane Maria. The team identified El Real – a rural community of approximately 1,000 residents, in the mountains of Patillas – as being in urgent need of WASH solutions post-Maria. El Real lacked access to safe drinking water and electricity for over eight months after the hurricane, and the village was severely damaged in the hurricane. This non-PRASA community needed a long-term, sustainable safe water solution which did not rely on electricity and required minimal maintenance.

Partnership Opportunities

The team is seeking media support for the inauguration of the water filtration system as part of the IsraAID global WASH initiative, in January 2019. The partners are seeking financial resources to replicate the water filtration system in another community. IsraAID’s team in Puerto Rico is partnering with the Inter-American University and sharing best Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) practices, and financial resources.

Progress Reports

February 2021

IsraAID partnered with the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico San-German (CECIA) and the El Real Community Water Management Board to build a disaster-resilient water filtration system. This provided a long-term, sustainable safe water solution, which requires minimal maintenance and is electricity independent. As such, IsraAID and its partners built a slow-sand, gravitational filtration system that would be managed and by the local Water Board, trained by IsraAID WASH Specialists.

The system pulls water from the river in the mountain, and relies on gravity to bring the water to a filter made of different sized rocks. A naturally developing biofilm traps bacteria, creating safe water that travels through piping to households. A hurricane-proof roof was placed on top of the filtration system, to ensure that the biofilm remains undisrupted in a future storm, and to stop debris from contaminating the system. In order to ensure long-term management of the system, five community members underwent six months of training with IsraAID and local water engineers, to learn how to work and fix the system, and how to liaise with the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure all relevant standards were upkept. As one participant shared, “this work is amazing. We are so glad [IsraAID] has chosen to come here. Not only the work you do here is great, but also the way you treat the community. I am very proud to know IsraAID and its work.”

IsraAID’s team also worked to address basic matters regarding sanitation and hygiene relevant to the community. As such, IsraAID trained local Jewish community volunteers, who conducted a door-to-door outreach campaign for “El Mes de Calidad de Agua” – Water Quality Month. As one participant shared, “I’m a doctor. I know the impact that poor water quality can have on people - leptospirosis, gastroenteritis, skin diseases, and parasites. I’m here to learn how to provide support for communities so they don’t have to deal with these unnecessary threats.” Additional community engagement events to promote the importance of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene matters included a “FeriAgua” – a community water festival, held as the building process was coming to an end. Another community-wide workshop focused on teaching children about these matters, and highlighting the daily activities necessary to keep us healthy.