USGS Sponsored Research


Research Priorities

CNMI's Critical Water Resources Research Needs
Identified at Previous Advisory meetings
Updated at October 11, 2011 Meeting, Saipan

I. Ground, Surface, and Coastal Water Quality

Impact Issues

Definition: Research that leads to a better understanding of, or the possible solution to, problems caused by the impact of mans activities or natural processes on CNMI’s fresh water quality.

  1. Determine the impact of septic tanks and other waste disposal systems on nitrate and nitrite levels in surrounding soil and underlying groundwater.
  2. Determine the impact of storm water on wastewater collection systems (overflow) and near shore environments.
  3. Determine the impact of road maintenance and construction of secondary roads on soil erosion (ecological impact) and quality of storm water runoff (economic, human health impact).
  4. Develop a GIS database of septic tank locations in Saipan to facilitate the determination of their impact on groundwater and surface water resources including nearshore environments (ongoing).
  5. Determine the impact of aquaculture operation on freshwater and near-shore environments with emphasis on antibiotic additives and nutrients in effluent streams.
  6. Determine the impact of RO brine disposal injection wells on near shore environment and possible influence of this practice on saltwater intrusion within the developable aquifer.
  7. Identify and evaluate potential source of elevated nitrate in production wells from the Isley Field Aquifer and determine the impact of season, soil characteristics and local geology on levels currently encountered (ongoing).
  8. Impact of historical and recent land use activities on ground and surface water quality and production.
  9. Determine the impact of contaminants released into surface waters from FUDS and waste disposal sites in the CNMI, on aquatic resources of local importance.
  10. Conduct skeletal studies of calcifying coral reef organisms from reefs associated with priority watersheds to determine and compare the historical and contemporary watershed discharge quantity and quality.
  11. Develop source mitigation strategies for elevated levels of copper and zinc in CUC wastewater discharges.
  12. Impact of groundwater intrusion on seagrass and algal assemblages in Saipan Lagoon.
  13. Impact of ocean outfalls on benthic communities and aquatic resources in Saipan Lagoon.
  14. Survey of commercial kitchens to determine grease interception capabilities and impacts on wastewater collection an treatment systems.
  15. Conduct studies to determine whether or not the gradual decline in coral diversity and increase in beach degradation in Rota over the last decade or so is linked to the increase in residential septic systems.
  16. Assess impacts of El Nino and other decadal and longer-scale drought/storm cycles on aquifer and/or surface catchment recharge, groundwater salinity, and/or other water quality/quantity parameters.

Baseline Issues:

Definition: Research that leads to a better understanding of existing levels of contaminants to serve as a basis to judge the effects of mans future activities on the quality of CNMI’s fresh water resources.

  1. Conduct baseline studies to determine which of CNMI’s drinking water wells fall under the U.S. EPA Groundwater Under the Direct Influence of Surface Water (GWUD (GWUDI) rule. Such studies should also include well-head inspection and testing.
  2. Establish baseline levels of recalcitrant chemical contaminants in fisheries resources (e.g., algae, seacucumbers, mollusks, crustaceans and fish) from Saipan Lagoon and other nearshore waters in CNMI impacted by freshwater discharges of one kind or another, and evaluate any site-specific public health risk associated with their unrestricted consumption (ongoing).
  3. Establish levels of pesticides, including arsenicals, in watersheds throughout the CNMI. To include old and unregistered pesticides as well as those currently in use.
  4. Identify alternative baseline monitoring strategies to reduce the impact of the loss of the USGS water data monitoring program in the CNMI.
  5. Establish season and usage related changes in salinity in drinking waters production wells .
  6. Create baseline spatial and temporal profiles for nearshore water quality parameters in the CNMI (e.g., salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, basic nutrients, turbidity, suspended solids) to determine changes associated with storm water runoff and freshwater discharges.
  7. Develop an inventory of existing wastewater treatment facilities and corresponding excess sludge handling practices in the CNMI; suggest potential modifications to the treatment systems that would lead to reduced yields of excess sludge; and explore avenues for enhancing sustainability, including energy recovery and beneficial use of excess sludge.
  8. Survey cross-connection hazard levels of commercial and residential sites on Saipan.

Modeling Issues:

Definition: Research aimed at developing means of predicting the fate and transport of contaminants in CNMI’s freshwater systems.

  1. Define and delineate the transport and fate of contaminants such as nitrate, phosphate and chlorides, organic compounds, and thallium containing compounds through CNMI’s aquifers .
  2. Conduct modeling studies and other hydrogeology investigations to assist in the development of new groundwater resources and the regulation of existing pumping to improve the salinity problems in the public drinking water system.
  3. Model the movement of contaminants from sewer outfall structures .
  4. Model existing RO brine injection wells to determine whether there may be some impacts on existing or potential groundwater supplies.
  5. Model the fate and transport of contaminants in the groundwater in Tinian especially close to the casino secondary wastewater treatment system.
  6. Map the aquifer subunits on Saipan .
  7. Develop appropriate R-factors for use in the ‘Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation’ for the islands of the CNMI.
  8. Develop a GIS database for water and wastewater systems for CUC to improve operations and management .

Regulatory Issues:

Definition: Research to investigate the need for new regulations and the effectiveness of existing regulations that deal with CNMI’s fresh water quality issues.

  1. Develop an updated watershed atlas for CNMI. This atlas would:
    • Provide detailed watershed delineation and stream geometry for all major watersheds.
    • Identify sink holes, wetlands and badland areas.
    • Delineating surface water flows during storm events.
    • Identify potential sources and abundances of contaminants within each watershed.
    • Information would be provided in a coordinated GIS frame work with maps (and GIS coverages) available to regulating agencies and to private citizens thought the world wide web.
  2. Develop nutrient standards for CNMI conditions (Western Pacific region wide application).
  3. Review and improve regulations dealing with aquaculture effluent.
  4. Determine appropriate well head protection policies or zone of influence protection policies for islands within the CNMI.
  5. Assess appropriateness of applying zones of mixing to toxics (metals) in wastewater effluent in the CNMI.

Development of or Application of New Technologies to Water Quality Issues:

Definition: Studies to investigate the development of, or application of, new technologies to improve water quality.

  1. Examine the use of innovative processes to improve the quality of stormwater.
  2. Examine the effectiveness of various local soils and substrate mixtures in reducing groundwater contamination of nitrate from septic tanks.
  3. Identify and evaluate better indicators for bacterial contamination of ground and surface waters in tropical regions.
  4. Provide a critical evaluation of the best available technologies and processes for converting Saipan’s brackish groundwater into a potable drinking water supply.
  5. Evaluate various wastewater treatment technologies for higher level treatment of sewage delivered to existing treatment facilities.
  6. Examine and evaluate best disposal options for all three main islands in the CNMI. This would include benefit/cost analysis of a) offshore ocean disposal and b) conventional treatment and reuse.
  7. Develop biomarker capabilities to augment and refine existing bio-indicator studies in CNMI coastal waters.
  8. Study the feasibility of subdivision level sewage treatment systems.
  9. Assessment of new technologies and methodologies for treatment and disposal of excess sludge from sewage treatment plants on Saipan. Study to include on-site pilot studies to provide a basis for final selections.

II. Water Quantity Projects

Definition: Research aimed at gaining a better understanding of the availability, deliverability and sustainability of CNMI's surface water, groundwater and rainwater resources.

  1. Develop models of demand, use, and management of water resources on all of the islands in the CNMI .
  2. Assess various strategies for developing 24-hour water in the Saipan water supply system.
  3. Develop water budget for Saipan groundwater for each aquifer.
  4. Investigate various options of transmission, distribution, and storage of source water for optimal delivery to customers.
  5. Examine the feasibility of catching, treating, and storing large quantities of storm water in drainages such as the Garapan watershed in order to provide flood control and as a source of high quality water for the CUC .
  6. Evaluate the hydrologic impacts of ENSO droughts, typhoons, etc. on ground water levels in major aquifers in Saipan.
  7. Evaluate the potential of Rota’s water caves to meet future demands of the island, and the hydrology of the Sabana watershed that feeds them.
  8. Explore the impact of new AgAg wells on existing supplies at Donney Springs.
  9. Conduct specific investigations in the area of water use, the data of which can be used to update existing master plans .
  10. Examine well pumping rates and salinity levels to develop optimized pumping rates and well-field capacities .
  11. Improve existing rainfall databases for CMNI with records collected at least on a daily and preferably on an hourly basis. Currently, the only available data (from Saipan airport) is extremely limited and of questionable reliability (ongoing)
  12. Develop a realistic estimate of water production in each sub-region of Saipan’s water distribution system.
  13. Identify potential well fields on Saipan that can be developed to provide better quality drinking water, and identify current production wells that should be taken off line.
  14. Develop cost analysis of CUC water and develop appropriate rate structure.
  15. Identify potential well fields in Rota and Tinian

III. Watershed Baseline Modeling and Management Issues

Definition: Watershed based research to determine best management practices for reduction in contamination in surface runoff and to provide information on CNMI’s surface water sources and the required legislative framework required to protect these resources.

  1. Develop GIS database for soil erosion and watershed management in the CNMI
  2. Develop an updated watershed atlas for CNMI. This atlas would:
    • Build on the atlas of water resources developed previously
    • Provide detailed watershed delineation and stream geometry for all major watersheds
    • Identify sink holes, wetlands and badland areas
    • Delineating surface water flows during storm events
    • Identify potential sources and abundances of contaminants within each watershed
    • Information would be provided in a coordinated GIS frame work with maps (and GIS coverages) available to regulating agencies and to private citizens thought the world wide web
  3. Model BMP for ‘polluted’ watersheds within CNMI
  4. Island wide and watershed specific modeling of water flows with specific reference to: climate/recharge/runoff relationships and their effect on groundwater quality and quantity
  5. Establish surface runoff GIS databases for watershed/sub watersheds that highlight the influence of such variables as slope, soil type, permeability and vegetation coverage on discharge rates
  6. Conduct skeletal studies of calcifying coral reef organisms from reefs associated with priority watersheds to determine and compare the historical and contemporary watershed discharge quantity and quality
  7. Establish levels of pesticides in watersheds throughout the CNMI. Include old, unregistered pesticides and arsenicals, as well as those currently in use
  8. Impact of urban runoff on aqueous chemistry and biotic components of National Park wetland areas in the vicinity of American Memorial Park, Saipan
  9. Watershed delineating and protection plans for Rota Caves on Rota and the Maui II well (infiltration gallery) in Tinian. Both features are potentially important sources of drinking water to island residents
  10. Establish a rain-gage network on Rota and Tinian in order to provide a realistic estimate of water production over wet and dry seasons

IV. Education And Professional Training

Definition: Projects that lead to the public’s better understanding of water resources issues to include information dissemination needs, water resources training courses and workshops for k-12 students and teachers, the general public and island water resource managers and decision makers.

  1. Initiate programs that would educate elected officials, policy makers and utility board members on water related issues such as sources of water, desalinization, and utility waters supply concerns.
  2. Improve and expand water resources information dissemination.
  3. Provide brochures and accompanying workshops various village locations on rainwater catchment system design, construction, materials and water quality considerations. This project could be linked to the existing project WET already active in CNMI.
  4. Provide a water resources educational campaign targeting teachers and school children. Focus on conservation strategies that help mitigate water quantity quality issues that impact family life.
  5. Conduct a ‘Western Pacific Water Quality Analysis Laboratory Conference’ to discuss common issues (e.g., centralized testing, lab certification, purchasing of testing supplies and equipment, lab equipment servicing). Include lab personnel from educational institutions, EPA and utilities from throughout the region.
  6. Provide distance education opportunities for UOG water resources, pre engineering and environmental science courses in Saipan.
  7. Conduct water and wastewater system operator training program for CUC employees.
  8. Provide training on best management practices for animal and aquiculture wastes.
  9. Conduct a farmer education program aimed at establishing a wellhead protection, or zone of influence protection zone, for the Tinian water tunnel.
  10. Provide workshops on alternative wastewater disposal technologies for CNMI.
  11. Provide training on cost, operation and maintenance of desalinization equipment.
  12. Streamline all agency natural resource data collections into a central repository. Promote common inter-agency techniques for spatial data productions (e.g., CAD and GI); develop more GIS layers, and formulate appropriate policies for data sharing between all agencies (initiated).
  13. Provide refresher demonstration courses for the Saipan “Hydraulic Model” developed by WERI.
  14. Public education campaign aimed at construction, care and maintenance of rainwater catchment systems for the CNMI.
  15. Create a user friendly data-base of all available water resources information for the CNM, including drilling logs, pump tests, water quality data, etc., plus annotated bibliography
  16. Develop educational materials for the general public and businesses on:
    • a) the effects of inadequate wastewater grease interception
    • b) the need for adequate cross-connection control in drinking water lines

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