About Operation Agua

About Operation Agua


The massive damage caused by Hurricane Maria and the lack of electricity and clean water on the island of Puerto Rico continue to threaten the health, safety and lives of millions of American citizens. This is a humanitarian crisis the likes of which we have never seen in our country.

AFT President Randi Weingarten spent several days in Puerto Rico after the storm, where she witnessed the devastation and the tremendous need firsthand. In most areas, it still looks like the hurricane struck three days ago, not more than three weeks ago. People are resorting to collecting water in contaminated waterways, or from runoff, and there are reports of some even drinking from toxic Superfund sites. And the danger is not over for those with running water; because water-treatment plants are still not operational, tap water may be tainted with raw sewage.

AFT nurses spent two weeks in Puerto Rico setting up clinics across the island, and they raised the alarm not only about the dehydration that people are experiencing but also about the danger of waterborne illnesses caused by the lack of clean drinking water.

When Weingarten asked San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz what she needed, she said, “Continue to speak out about the crisis in Puerto Rico and help get clean water to more people.”

So, that is exactly what we intend to do via Operation Agua.

The AFT, in partnership with Operation Blessing International, AFSCME and the Hispanic Federation, launched Operation Agua to provide safe drinking water to families across Puerto Rico. Operation Agua’s initial goal is to purchase and distribute 100,000 individual water filtration systems for households and classrooms, and 50 large-capacity clean-water devices to a network of nonprofit organizations, union offices, schools and other community-based groups to provide stable and reliable sources of safe water.

This unique coalition brings together relationships with manufacturers, experience providing clean water across the globe, partnerships with shipping and transport workers and corporations, and access to a regional and school-based infrastructure across the island to deliver clean water to people:

  • The American Federation of Teachers is a union of professionals with 1.7 million members working in education, hospitals and other healthcare facilities, and state and local government. The AFT has a track record of responding to natural disasters affecting its members, including Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Harvey, with on-the-ground, tangible support, and has a 501(c)(3) in place to collect and distribute disaster relief funds. 
  • The AFT’s local affiliate in Puerto Rico, the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR), represents 40,000 active and retired educators, has a network of 78 offices across the island, and has access to an army of volunteers and knowledgeable staff who have the local relationships, know-how and connections to move Operation Aqua forward successfully.
  • Operation Blessing International, a humanitarian organization dedicated to alleviating human need and suffering around the world, is currently in place in San Juan, using proven water filtration and purification systems.
  • The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees represents 1.6 million nurses, corrections officers, sanitation workers and other public service workers across the country, including in Puerto Rico. In addition to supporting Operation Agua, AFSCME has collected and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to victims of natural disasters through its Fallen Heroes Fund.
  • The Hispanic Federation, a leading Latino nonprofit, has been at the forefront of efforts in Puerto Rico, with 100 percent of donations going directly to relief and recovery.

Since Hurricane Maria hit, the federal government has failed in its responsibility to provide the resources, infrastructure and distribution efforts our fellow citizens need. For this reason, we have come together to address the lack of reliable, clean drinking water to help alleviate further human suffering, hopefully prevent further loss of life and prevent a massive outbreak of waterborne diseases.

Operation Agua is not a handout but a hand up for our fellow Americans suffering and dying in Puerto Rico.

We invite others to join us in this effort to marshal our combined resources to support Operation Agua. Please read our proposal below and opportunities for partners and sponsors to work with us.



The AFT, Operation Blessing International, AFSCME and the Hispanic Federation will bring small-scale home-based and large-scale community-based water filtration and purification devices directly to the Puerto Rican people.

Goal: To purchase and distribute 100,000 individual water filtration systems for households and classrooms, and 50 large-capacity clean-water devices to a network of nonprofit organizations, union offices, schools and other community-based groups to provide stable and reliable sources of safe water.

Timeline: Begin transporting water filtration systems in October 2017, with consistent deliveries and distributions to many towns and villages, to be completed by the end of the calendar year. With sufficient funding, the project can continue into 2018.


The nonprofit organization Operation Blessing International has operations at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum and is assisting the mayor of San Juan on water-filtration efforts. Operation Blessing, through its work across the world, has developed relationships with the makers of water-filtration and disinfectant products for both personal and large-scale use.

Based on the situation in Puerto Rico, we propose a two-pronged effort:

  1. The purchase and installation of large-capacity water desalination/purification systems in central locations throughout Puerto Rico; and
  2. The purchase and distribution of single-family water desalination/purification systems.

Here are four water purification and filtration options, three of which are for large-scale water purification and one of which is for individual household use:



Photo of SANILEC 6 Portable Sodium Hypochlorite Generator

Option 1- SANILEC 6 Portable Sodium Hypochlorite Generator

  • This method creates a chlorine solution that can then be added to disinfect water, making it drinkable. The solution can also be used as a surface cleaner.
  • A single bottle cap of solution disinfects 5 gallons of water.
  • How it works: Fifteens pounds of salt is added to a plastic or fiberglass bin filled with water. The device, which requires electricity or a generator, is placed in the water and runs for eight hours to create a disinfectant solution. Fifty gallons of this solution cleans 150,000 gallons of water.
  • The bins of solution can be transported to areas where 5-gallon bins of water can be cleaned with a single bottle cap of the solution and distributed to people. The solution and treated water last two weeks.
  • Operation Blessing is currently using this water purification device in Puerto Rico with successful results. It recommends this option as a lower-cost solution that can still clean large amounts of water and is very user friendly.
  • Cost: $5,000 each for supplies and shipping, plus ongoing costs for power.


Option 2- Parker Hannifin Reverse Osmosis Systems

  • This method uses reverse osmosis to filtrate the water. These are complex devices that require technical experience to operate.
  • Cost: $10,000-$25,000 each, plus shipping and ongoing costs for power.

Option 3 – Water Mission Erosion Chlorinator

This device, which is suitable for buildings that have plumbing and some water pressure, uses chlorine tablets to purify water. It requires periodic water tests. The low upfront cost makes it affordable and convenient.

Cost:  $1,000, which includes the cost of device and 50 pounds of chlorine tablets.


For the large-capacity systems, our first targets for locations are places that have the manpower, storage space and reliable electric power to use these systems. These locations also have the ability to distribute the clean water to families and households nearby. 


  • Five regional offices of the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (San Juan, Ponce, Mayagüez, Caguas, Arecibo)
  • Public Schools (that have passed inspection)
  • Churches
  • Boys and Girls Clubs
  • State and municipal government offices



KOHLER Clarity Water Filtration

Photo of INDIVIDUAL SYSTEM - KOHLER Clarity Water Filtration

This method is for personal and home use and requires no electrical power. The device can hold 23 liters and filters up to two liters per hour. The device can produce 5,000 liters of water before a new filter is needed.

Cost: $30 each, which includes shipping.  

  • 40-foot shipping container can hold 2,400 (40 per pallet)
  • Currently spending $5,000 to transport to U.S. seaport and then to Puerto Rico by boat.

Operation Agua will distribute the water filtration devices across Puerto Rico directly to families and households that do not have access to clean drinking water.

Once again, these locations have the manpower, storage and communication networks in place to reach families and households in need:  

  • Regional offices and 78 local union halls of AMPR
  • Boys and Girls Clubs
  • Schools that have passed inspection


As many news outlets have reported, transportation has been an obstacle to Puerto Rican relief efforts. We have already secured the support of the Seafarers International Union, as well as shipping companies that the union works with, to secure mainland trucking and sea-based shipping services to transport items to Puerto Rico.

We are working with Puerto Rico-based trucking partners to secure transportation in Puerto Rico. This is an area where we welcome support and ideas. 



The AFT, Operation Blessing International, AFSCME and the Hispanic Federation all have extensive networks active on social media and in their communities that we are reaching out to.

We just launched a website, www.OperationAgua.com, to collect donations online. All the funds will go through the AFT’s Disaster Relief Fund, a designated 501(C)3. 

We invite organizations and individuals to join forces with us on Operation Agua. For more information or to parter with us, please contact the AFT's Marcus Mrowka (mmrowka@aft.org) or Tish Olshefski (tolshefs@aft.org).