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Groundwater conditions and trends, 2009–19, Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

March 24, 2021

Groundwater is the primary source of municipal water for Saipan. Nearly all groundwater for the municipal water supply is withdrawn from a freshwater-lens system with a limited amount of freshwater that is susceptible to saltwater intrusion. The status of Saipan’s groundwater resources has not been thoroughly assessed since 2003. The U.S. Geological Survey—in cooperation with the Office of Grants Management, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and in collaboration with the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation—assessed the status and characteristics of Saipan’s groundwater resources by (1) evaluating groundwater withdrawals from municipal production wells during 2014–19, (2) evaluating chloride concentrations of municipal groundwater withdrawals during 2009–19, and (3) collecting salinity profiles at selected groundwater-monitoring wells during 2018–19. At the time of preparation of this report (2019), the periods of groundwater-withdrawal and chloride-concentration data represent the only periods of data available since 2003.

During 2014–19, groundwater for the municipal water supply was withdrawn from about 143 production wells. Most of the wells are drilled into limestone formations in the southern plateau and the Kagman Peninsula and generally have withdrawal rates of about 40–60 gallons per minute. Records of monthly groundwater withdrawals from municipal production wells were available for May 2014–March 2019; during that period, monthly withdrawals ranged from 5.7 to 12.8 million gallons per day (Mgal/d) and averaged 9.3 Mgal/d, although records were unavailable for 9 months (May 2015–January 2016). Private wells, mainly located on the western coastal plain, currently are permitted to withdraw a total of about 7 Mgal/d of groundwater. Actual groundwater withdrawals from private wells, however, are uncertain because withdrawal records for private wells are not available.

The Commonwealth Utilities Corporation measured the chloride concentration of groundwater pumped from each of its production wells about twice a year from 2009–19; during this period, 146 production wells were active and sampled. Only 32 of the 146 (22 percent) municipal production wells had median chloride concentrations less than or equal to 250 milligrams per liter (mg/L), the secondary drinking water standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Eighty-one wells (55 percent) pumped water with median chloride concentrations above 500 mg/L.

The Mann-Kendall test was used to determine if chloride concentrations of groundwater withdrawals at 146 municipal production wells had statistically significant trends during December 2009–February 2019. Trends were considered statistically significant for probability values (p-values) less than or equal to 0.05. Test results indicate an upward trend at 9 wells, a downward trend at 52 wells, and no trend at 85 wells.

Salinity profiles were measured in 12 selected monitor wells during July–August 2018 and were measured in six of the twelve selected monitor wells during March 2019. The salinity profiles were used to estimate the thickness of the freshwater lens at 10 monitor wells; freshwater-lens thickness was greatest (46 ft) in a monitor well in the Dan Dan well field near the northern part of the southern plateau. Freshwater-lens-thickness estimates elsewhere were (1) between 0 and 28 ft for the remaining monitor wells on the southern plateau, (2) between 19 and 21 ft for monitor wells on the Kagman Peninsula, (3) 2 ft for a monitor well in the Sablan Quarry well field on west-central Saipan, and (4) 8 ft for a monitor well in the Marpi Quarry well field on northern Saipan.