No clear answers on Tinian groundwater for military use


The U.S. military’s possible plan to build groundwater wells on the two-thirds of Tinian land it leases were posed by military officials in recent ad-hoc discussions between them and the CNMI, confirmed a Cabinet member with knowledge of these talks.

But CNMI officials also posed the question as to who has say over the groundwater under these lands, it was learned. They also suggested that the military find, assess, and rehabilitate existing wells left over after World War II in the northern part of the island, versus building new ones.

A Marine Forces Pacific spokesperson in Guam was asked if the military had plans to construct groundwater wells to support future activity last week. The spokesperson was also asked to clarify who had say over this resource.

The spokesperson indicated that this information would be addressed in the draft environmental impact statement for proposed combined live-fire and artillery training on Tinian and Pagan when it was released.

Further clarification or context on these plans were requested but were not provided as of press time.

Who has say over the groundwater? According to Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality administrator Frank Rabauliman, this would be a public resource.

He pointed to the Commonwealth Groundwater Management and Protection Act that gives the Division of Environmental Quality oversight over CNMI groundwater.

“And that goes to anybody,” he said. “Just because you own that property doesn’t mean you can dig in and extract as much groundwater as you can,” Rabauliman clarified.

Asked about management of this groundwater, Rabauliman said they would prefer that water used on Tinian be hooked up to the island’s waterline.

“But we also realize the military may be too far away from the last mainline of [the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.]” which may extend somewhere near the Westfield airport, he said.

“Ideally, if everybody could hook up to the water line that would be the best way for us to manage the groundwater,” he added.

He said in their last ad-hoc meeting military officials gave a walkthrough on what they are considering and what they intend to do, heading into the DEIS due later this year.

But Rabauliman noted that areas not included were wastewater and water.

“They had solid waste [management], but they didn’t have wastewater and water and so that was highlighted,” he said.

The military was asked “to come back with that considered,” he said. “Because those are going to be issues that need to be addressed,” he added.

For the bureau’s part, Rabauliman indicated that rehabilitating existing wells might be the better option, as far as groundwater management goes.

“But depending on where [military] facilities are going to be,” he said. “We just need to look at that case by case.”

Saipan Tribune learned that groundwater wells were dug on Tinian for use during the war, but there was no clear handing over these wells right after the war ended and before the leaseback agreement was signed between the military and the CNMI in later years.

In 2000, the U.S. Geological Survey rehabilitated 11 wells on Tinian, it was learned. Five were put in operation but are right now on standby. These wells are all on civilian property.

But more wells may exist on the military’s side of the fence, it was learned, and that is why the CNMI suggested that the military find these wells and rehabilitate them for their use.

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at

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