Philadelphia water expert advocates for Puerto Rico

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Photo courtesy: Fernando Ortiz
January 29, 2018

Growing up in Puerto Rico, I experienced the metaphysical and psychological impact of living by the water. Going to the beach is so transcendental, and that feeling never escaped me. Having the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Environmental Studies (MES) program support me and my work for my island proved that I could have an impact on its future,” reflects Tiffany Ledesma (MES ’01), an environmental consultant with CDM Smith for the Philadelphia Water Department and global clean water advocate.

Tiffany has been working in the water industry for 19 years, and her career journey started during her time in the MES program. Not only did she work for The Conservation Fund and the Environmental Protection Agency as a student, but she also embarked on two major independent study projects in Puerto Rico that transformed her professional trajectory.

She first traveled to Guánica, a coastal town on the southwest of the island. There, Tiffany worked on a coastal management plan to help lessen the impact of urban development on the bay. “We talked with fishermen, residents and other representatives to identify assets and needs. We studied the target area, and we then proposed a plan to protect the reserve in a way that benefited all of its users and respects its multiple uses,” she adds, “Penn helped me get funding to be able to work intensively and become completely immersed in that world on a full-time basis. I was out there with a research team, studying the ecosystem and user intersections. That experience made me realize that I want to keep working on projects where people have the potential to influence the outcomes that impact their world every day.”

For Tiffany’s capstone project, she completed a feasibility study of the Blue Flag program for the Caribbean, identifying Puerto Rico as her primary case study. Blue Flag is a global eco-label certification program that values stringent standards for the health and safety of beaches and public waterways. She explains, “This program started in Europe, so I surveyed various representatives from over twenty European countries to determine what data could inform a Caribbean version. I shared my findings with Puerto Rico’s tourism board as well as officials in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Today, Puerto Rico has Blue Flag sites. Though I’m not sure if my findings influenced the decision makers or not, I do hope it helped.”

Continuing her lifelong work for Puerto Rico, Tiffany founded Clean Water for Puerto Rico by Boricuas in PA through the global disaster relief and clean water non-profit Waves For Water. Her initiative is raising $10,000 to install water filters to help 20,000 Puerto Ricans suffering from the impact of Hurricane Maria. “Puerto Rico has been hit hard, and we all need to help each other,” she urges. “In November 2017, there were still about one million people who didn’t have clean water for over a month and millions more without reliable treatment because of the power outages. Puerto Ricans are US citizens, and those of us in the states, from the island, want to do everything we can to raise awareness.”

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