Exploring Water and Power Resiliency for the Cubuy Community Center in Canóvanas, Puerto Rico

Sponsoring Organizations: ID Shaliah

Team Members: Jeffrey Brennan (Mechanical Engineering ’23), Talia Mamayek (Architectural Engineering ’23), Izzy Nearing (Biomedical Engineering ’23), Alex Strickland (Robotics Engineering, ’23)

Advisors: Prof. Scott Jiusto & Prof. Gbeton Somasse

Download the full report

Download the final presentation



Cubuy, a rural community in Cańovanas, Puerto Rico, lacked sufficient water and power for months following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Working alongside ID Shaliah, this project was intended to explore various methods of providing a renewable source of water and power for Cubuy during emergencies. Community interaction and focus groups helped gauge the extent of the community’s resources. Interviews with engineers, organization leaders, and consultants provided insight into the best method of ensuring potable water and the specifications of a donated photovoltaic system. The resulting report can be referenced to supplement the further development of drilling a well and supplying sustainable solar energy to support Cubuy with water and power resiliency.

The “Roofers” at the Cubuy Community Center. From left to right: Jeffrey Brennan, Talia Mamayek, Alex Strickland, Izzy Nearing



Small island developing states (SIDS), such as Puerto Rico, are islands and coastal regions facilitated by the United Nations that endure uneven challenges for sustainable development. SIDS experience elevated risks to natural disasters due to isolating geographic and geologic features which forces these states to be self-sustaining during the immediate aftermath of a disaster (Shultz, 2016). Building resilience in regions disproportionately impacted by natural hazards is paramount for communities’ emergency preparedness. A common way to build resilience in communities is to establish and promote access to stable sources of power and water; two things that are sought after in emergencies. Different systems can be installed to provide power and water, such as photovoltaic (PV) arrays, rainwater harvesting (RWH) systems, and drilling a well.

Located in remote mountains near El Yunque National Forest, Cubuy is often cut off from the distribution network of Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) and Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). In this project, Worcester Polytechnic Institute students worked with ID Shaliah and members of Cubuy, Puerto Rico to take steps towards providing a reliable power and potable water source for the Cubuy Community Center. The once-abandoned school building is being retrofitted to become a community resiliency center. Providing vital resources to this building is imperative for it to function as a resiliency center during emergency events. The main priority is establishing a source of potable water, whether that be a RWH system or a drilled well, along with a PV system for power generation.


Goals and Objectives

This project was intended to assist the Cubuy Community Center in implementing a sustainable, reliable power and potable water source. To achieve this goal, our team followed these objectives:

  • Identify the Vision and Rationale for the Power and Water Source from Sponsors and Community Members
  • Analyze the Existing Roof Structure and Identify Potential Systems
  • Establish a Network of Organizations to Aid in the Selection of Each System Considered and Weigh Social Impact
  • Create a Library of Documents for Future Improvements to the Community Center


Generating and Evaluating Potential Solutions

Through our interviews with community members and communication with our sponsors, we learned about the greatest needs of the Community Center. Many, if not all the people we talked to were without water and power for months following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. They all stressed how important it would be to the community if there was a potable water source to provide water in times of emergency.

An assessment of the existing infrastructure at the site was completed to evaluate possible systems and where they could be installed. We could not acquire the construction documents from the Public Buildings Authority, so we collected all necessary data on site. Each building was numbered for ease of reference and information was noted such as rooftop area, surface condition, material of the roof, obstructions, and drainage points. This analysis helped determine which roofs were best suited for the various systems being considered.

Map of Cubuy Community Center and Roof Surfaces Adapted from Google Maps (2021)

We then compared options for various potable water systems at the community center: drilling a well and harvesting rainwater. We researched the demand for water during emergencies and determined that a drilled well has the potential to provide a large quantity of potable water to the community. Well water does not require extensive water filtration to make it drinkable compared to collected rainwater. However, wells are expensive; one company offered a $60,000 quote to drill one. A rainwater harvesting system may be cheaper but would supply potable water to significantly fewer people than a well. Overall, we recommend continuing to research the implementation of a well while understanding the financial and physical limitations such as contaminants in the water (Laskow, 2018). A rainwater harvesting system could be utilized for solely non-potable uses.

We found that installing a PV system would fulfill the need for a reliable source of power at the community center. We secured a donation of a PV system from ProSolar, which has the potential to grow to 221 panels. The system donated has battery capacity to provide the center with electricity 24/7, and the excess stored power can even be sold back to PREPA. To maximize system efficiency, it is important to consider the panel mounting angle, material of solar cells, reflectiveness of roof surface, and sun exposure. Fortunately, Puerto Rico has proven to be an optimal location for PV systems due to its geographical location.

The success of this project was reliant on networking with organizations throughout Puerto Rico which has proven to be a time sensitive process requiring a lot of patience and persistence. Interviews with professionals in the corresponding fields informed us about design and construction considerations for each system. We maintained contact with representatives of similar organizations that support community resiliency centers in Puerto Rico. Another major result of networking was to secure monetary and material donations considering both sponsors are non-profit organizations.

Large amounts of funding from grants and private companies would be beneficial for the community center to fulfill long-term plans. Similar projects in Puerto Rico have received millions of dollars in federal funding from agencies like FEMA and the USDA. The difficulty in securing such funding is due to the complicated and lengthy application process. Numerous documents and information are required about the project and may take up to a year to complete.

After completing fieldwork, we were able to address questions regarding PV systems, potable water usage, and expanding the network of engineering and funding professionals. Our research led to the creation of a digital library with guides, models, and useful documents for the continuation of this project by our sponsors or future IQP groups.



A major outcome of this project was the development of a handoff guide, entitled “Building Resiliency for the Cubuy Community Center”. This guide contains all our findings regarding PV systems, water usage analysis, networking, and funding opportunities, while also describing how we advanced the initial state of these aspects since our time in Puerto Rico.

A model of the community center was also developed using building information modeling software to visualize the potential placement for PV panels. The visuals generated from the model can be used for marketing, sharing progress work with the community, and securing funding as well.

Render of Future Solar Powered Cubuy Community Center

A contact sheet was developed to organize all the companies and organizations that we reached out to. This sheet contains the emails, phone numbers, and websites of our contacts, while also listing details of the interactions we had for them. This sheet will be passed on to future IQP groups so that they can maintain the relationships we developed.


Our team leaves ID Shaliah with several concrete deliverables to support their development of the Cubuy Community Center. We recommend that our sponsors and future IQP teams use the Building Resiliency Guide, building model, contact sheet and supplementary documents to facilitate the Cubuy Community Center design process and conversations with potential funders. To advance current relationships and the development of a drilled well and supplying sustainable solar energy, we suggest that major decisions are informed by the contents of our digital file library. The impressive efforts of our sponsors and community volunteers will promote emergency preparedness and community resilience. Pioneering work in Cubuy was an exciting learning experience and we look forward to seeing the center reach its maximum potential.