Military plans to drill own water wells on Tinian

Rights to groundwater have to be clarified

The U.S. military aims to drill into Tinian five new vertical wells from which to draw potable water, but they must first answer to what exact rights they have to Tinian’s water, and if the current commercial water system can be hooked to these new wells.

According to the CNMI Joint Training Draft Environmental Impact Statement, copies of which were obtained by the Saipan Tribune yesterday, the military has laid out plans for four range complexes on Tinian inclusive of grenade, tank, pistol, and mortar activity. The new wells come with other construction requirements like roads, fuel pipelines and tanks, and wastewater facilities, among others, for this training.

The DEIS said the average daily potable water demand for the proposed military action is about 262,200 gallons per day. It says the potable water source will come from new vertical wells drilled within the military’s leased area. The wells will be installed in areas northeast of their base camp.

Speaking before members of the Legislature yesterday afternoon, Marine Corps Forces Pacific disclosed that the draft environmental impact statement explains “that a new well field will be needed to support water demand from construction and training.”

“The existing water system will be needed to support the water demand from construction and training,” MarForPac executive director Craig Whelden said, adding that they will meet further with the Bureau of Environmental Coastal Quality to discuss the matter.

“The two outstanding legal questions are—what rights on the lease do the military has to water? And second, can the existing Tinian water system be tied into the new military wells?” he added.

Whelden was responding to Sen. Jude Hofschneider, who cited the CNMI Constitution, saying the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. is the authority for all underground water and minerals.

“Water is very important to us on Tinian,” Hofschneider said. “We have a sole-source aquifer that is in the north third of Tinian. I am wondering if you are going to be using the city water or are you going to be using the deep well.”

According to Whelden, a draft aquifer study report is due on June 24 for their review. The first version for CNMI eyes will be due in November this year.

In an interview, Whelden say they “have every expectation of having to drill a new well” because the existing infrastructure for Tinian is “incapable of supporting us.”

“We are having the legal people assess that… Can, for example, the people of Tinian benefit from a well that is drilled for the purpose of supporting the military? I don’t know the answer to that. We’ve asked that. Our objective is to have no impact, or positive impact on the people of Tinian with respect to anything with water,” he said.

As to who has say over the groundwater, BECQ administrator Frank Rabauliman earlier noted that this would be a public resource. “And that goes to anybody,” he had said. “Just because you own that property doesn’t mean you can dig in and extract as much groundwater as you can.” He was citing the Commonwealth Groundwater Management and Protection Act.

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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