FEMA says it left Puerto Rico water stockpile outside to save money: report

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has admitted fault for the thousands of pallets of now-undrinkable bottled water left on a runway in Puerto Rico, CBS reported Thursday.

A number of agencies lacked immediate answers after photos of the water intended for Hurricane Maria survivors spread across a tarmac in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, went viral on Tuesday. Marty Bahamonde, director of disaster operations for FEMA’s Office of External Affairs, told CBS on Thursday that FEMA moved the bottled water outdoors in January as a cost-cutting measure.

“As the water started to come back through the regular water system, and that started to increase, 90, 95 percent of people had water in their homes, there was less and less of a demand for the bottled water that was on the island,” Bahamonde told CBS.

Bahamonde claimed FEMA began moving the water in January because the agency was storing more than 1,100 containers on the island at a cost of about $300,000 per day. FEMA then told the Puerto Rican government in April that it had an excess of supplies and began accepting requests from local agencies to take that surplus off its hands.

Ottmar Chávez, head of Puerto Rico’s General Services Administration, told HuffPost his agency requested 20,000 pallets of water from FEMA in May. After distributing about 700 of that amount, the agency “received several complaints about the smell and taste of the water.” 

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Searching for water in Puerto Rico
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Searching for water in Puerto Rico
People collect mountain spring water, after Hurricane Maria hit the island, in Corozal, Puerto Rico October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People collect mountain spring water, after Hurricane Maria hit the island, in Corozal, Puerto Rico October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Madelyn Matos washes her hair as her boyfriend Jan Marcos Chaparro cleans his car with mountain spring water, after Hurricane Maria hit the island, in Corozal, Puerto Rico October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People collect mountain spring water, after Hurricane Maria hit the island, in Corozal, Puerto Rico October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man carries a case of water away from an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter after soldiers working with 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit dropped off relief supplies during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Madelyn Matos (L) and her boyfriend Jan Marcos Chaparro do their laundry with mountain spring water, after Hurricane Maria hit the island, in Corozal, Puerto Rico October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People collect mountain spring water, after Hurricane Maria hit the island, in Corozal, Puerto Rico October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People collect mountain spring water, after Hurricane Maria hit the island, in Corozal, Puerto Rico October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A family waits as a man fills drums with potable water brought to their small mountain community once a day after Hurricane Maria crippled utilities near Guayama, Puerto Rico October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
People collect mountain spring water, after Hurricane Maria hit the island, in Corozal, Puerto Rico October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People collect mountain spring water, after Hurricane Maria hit the island, in Corozal, Puerto Rico October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People collect mountain spring water, after Hurricane Maria hit the island, in Corozal, Puerto Rico October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
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The water was undrinkable after months outside in the heat and sun. 

Chávez said in his statement that the agency plans to “return those waters to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) inventory.” 

“FEMA put that water out on that airstrip for the purpose of getting it out of containers, so that there would be no cost to us and no cost to the taxpayer,” Bahamonde told CBS. “In hindsight, it saved us tens of millions of dollars.”

FEMA has been stretched thin as the country was ravaged by intense wildfires and hurricanes over the last year. The disaster relief agency is currently preparing for a response to Hurricane Florence as the storm is expected to cause massive flooding in the Carolinas.

President Donald Trump’s administration transferred nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency earlier this year to fund immigrant detention and deportation efforts, according to a document released Tuesday by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

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Life in Puerto Rico amid devastation
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Life in Puerto Rico amid devastation
A man stands inside of a destroyed supermarket by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Local residents collect water from a broken pipe at an area damaged by Hurricane Maria, in Cayey, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz (R) embraces Esperanza Ruiz, a city administrator, outside the government center at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum after Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
An aerial photo shows damage caused by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/DroneBase
People queue at a gas station to fill up their fuel containers, after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
An aerial photo shows people lining up at a gas station follwing damages caused by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/DroneBase
An elderly woman stands after receiving food during a supplies distributions at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People line up to board a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that will take them to the U.S. mainland, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man carrying a water container walks next to damaged houses after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, September 26, 2017. Picture taken on September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A woman drinks from a bottle after filling it with water from a tank truck at an area hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, September 26, 2017. Picture taken on September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A boy climbs a tree at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez
An aerial photo shows damage caused by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/DroneBase
People queue to fill containers with water from a tank truck at an area hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, September 26, 2017. Picture taken on September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A man rides a bicycle by damaged electricity lines at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People queue at a gas station to fill up their fuel containers, after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A shows the damages of his house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Children play on the roof of a damaged house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Damaged houses are seen after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People wake up after sleeping in a shelter set up at the Pedrin Zorrilla coliseum after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Monica Lopez (R) looks at her dog at a shelter set up at the Pedrin Zorrilla coliseum after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People queue at a gas station to fill up their fuel containers, after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Damaged houses are seen after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A woman cleans her house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People wait for their cellphones to be charged outside a store during a blackout after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man tries to rebuild his house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People use their cellphones on the street during a blackout after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Carlos Cruz (L) wakes up after sleeping in a shelter set up at the Pedrin Zorrilla coliseum after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A woman uses her cellphone on the street during a blackout after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People wait at a gas station to fill up their fuel containers, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man tries to repair a generator in the street after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Hilda Colon wakes up after sleeping in a shelter set up at the Pedrin Zorrilla coliseum after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
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Department of Homeland Security spokesman Tyler Houlton denied that the $10 million was taken from disaster relief, claiming Merkley’s accusation was a “sorry attempt to push a false agenda at a time when the administration is focused on assisting millions on the East Coast facing a catastrophic disaster.”

The document released by Merkley, which was supplied to HuffPost, states that more than $2.3 million from a total of about $9.8 million had been diverted from FEMA’s “response and recovery” budget. Other funding was transferred from regional operations, mitigation efforts, preparedness and protection, and mission support budgets.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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