Plan in the works to lessen bacteria load of 3 Saipan watersheds

Posted on Jan 23 2020

The bacteria load on three of Saipan’s major watersheds—LaoLao, Achugao, and Garapan—have been determined to be high and all three have been identified as high priorities for rehabilitation.

To address this, several government agencies will be coming together for a four-day workshop to talk about the different initiatives and priorities they have within these three specific geographic areas on Saipan.

According to Anne Kitchell, senior watershed planner with the Horsley Witten Group, all three watersheds have really high bacteria load in the water, with pollutants and contaminants getting out into the Saipan lagoon and into LaoLao Bay.

“For LaoLao, sediment and turbidity are an issue. … but the bacteria is a really big one,” Kitchell said. “That has to do mostly with the sources of wastewater, like breaks in the sewerline or pump stations that aren’t working or overflowing, or even homes that have, on site, septic systems. The piggeries can also discharge bacteria to the water.”

“Garapan is a highly urbanized area, lots of buildings, lots of people, a lot going on. Achugao, less so but there’s a lot of new construction, new development, and maybe that watershed area is changing, and then LaoLao [has] less development,” said Kitchell.

The focus, she said, is really on the fisheries, the coral reefs, and the diving.

With all three watersheds serving different purposes for Saipan, Kitchell said there is a need to find a balance between improving water quality, moving forward, while maintaining tourism and economic growth.

“We’re putting together watershed plans in order to integrate all the different agencies—their priorities, the capital improvement projects, coral restoration, road improvement—to ultimately help improve water quality and to try to balance out economic growth with environmental growth so that it is not competing, but enhancing together,” she said.

Kitchell has brought in a team of engineers, and water quality and site remediation experts from Massachusetts to do field work, measuring drain pipes and looking for flooding problems so they could come up with different engineering solutions for these areas.

The four-day watershed planning workshop will be attended by the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, Department of Lands and Natural Resources, Office of Planning and Development, Department of Public Works, and a number of different agencies.

The workshop is being run by Horsley Witten Group, with Nature Conservancy and KOA Consulting. KOA will be running local meetings in the coming days.

Kitchell said people on the island should look for opportunities to come and participate in the community meetings that their group will be having. “They should try to participate in that because it’s their vision for how the watershed should grow and be managed. That’s what all this planning needs to move toward.”

The watershed planning workshop will run until Jan. 24, Friday, at the Pacific Islands Club Saipan in Afetna.

Iva Maurin | Correspondent
Iva Maurin is a communications specialist with environment and community outreach experience in the Philippines and in California. She has a background in graphic arts and is the Saipan Tribune’s community and environment reporter. Contact her at
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