Ground-Water Resources of Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4178

Prepared in cooperation with the

Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

By Robert L. Carruth

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Saipan has an area of 48 mi2 and is the largest of the 14 islands in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The island is formed by volcanic rocks overlain by younger limestones. The island is situated in the western Pacific Ocean at latitude 15o12'N and longitude 145o45'E, about 3,740 mi west-southwest of Honolulu and midway between Japan and New Guinea (fig. 1). The climate on Saipan is classified as tropical marine with an average temperature of 80oF. The natural beauty of the island and surrounding waters are the basis for a growing tourist-based economy. The resulting rapid development and increases in resident and tourist populations have added stresses to the island's limited water supplies.

Freshwater resources on Saipan are not readily observable because, aside from the abundant rainfall, most freshwater occurs as ground water. Fresh ground water is found in aquifers composed mainly of fragmental limestones. About 90 percent of the municipal water supply comes from 140 shallow wells that withdraw about 11 Mgal/d. The chloride concentration of water withdrawn from production wells ranges from less than 100 mg/L for wells in the Akgak and Capital Hill well fields, to over 2,000 mg/L from wells in the Puerto Rico, Maui IV, and Marpi Quarry well fields.

The chloride concentrations and rates of ground-water production are not currently adequate for providing island residents with a potable 24-hour water supply and future demands are expected to be higher. To better understand the ground-water resources of the island, and water resources on tropical islands in general, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) entered into a cooperative program with the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC). The objective of the program, initiated in 1989, is to assess the ground-water resources of Saipan and to make hydrologic information available to the CUC in support of their ongoing efforts to improve the quality and quantity of the municipal water supply.

This report presents some of the results of the program including descriptions of (1) the geography and geology, (2) the occurrence of fresh ground water in permeable limestones that extend to some distance below sea level where water-level elevation is affected by ocean tides (coastal aquifers) and in limestones that overlie volcanic basement rocks above sea level (high-level aquifers), (3) the water-table configuration and directions of ground-water flow, and (4) the rainfall, ground-water withdrawal, and chloride concentrations in well water. Also described is the relation of the changes in water-table elevations to changes in sea level, rainfall, and ground-water withdrawal.


Citation: Carruth, R.L., 2003, Ground-Water Resources of Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4178, 3 Plates.

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