Water everywhere

Posted on Feb 14 2020


Our fresh water floats on top of salt water in a “lens”-shaped mass. Our aquafer differs from those in larger landmasses but, no matter whether water is stored in lakes, reservoirs, deep drilled into a rocky substrate or floated on a lens like ours, it is an indispensable part of life for our species and, in fact, all land-dwelling biological animals.

We get it out of that lens and into our kitchen sink using wells with submersible pumps driven by electricity, then pumped on to our houses via a water purification (chlorine) process and pumps to push it through a network of pipes. Many of those pipes are old. Some dating to the Trust Territory days. The pipes crack, leak, fail totally every once in a while and generally waste a huge percentage of our most precious natural resource.

Folks have been trying to solve that high loss problem for decades. Back in Kumoi’s day (’90s) he tried, without much success, to cut those losses and upgrade the system. During the Babauta administration, then-Lt. Gov. Diego Benavente formed a “Water Task Force,” bought new well drilling equipment and tried, also without a lot of success, to reduce losses via new piping. Although better funded than Kumoi, both Diego and he simply did not have the resources in hand to complete such a massive project.

Recently, CUC has been on a tear for the last several years trying to replace worn out storage tanks, replacing main and feeder lines, and once in a while proclaiming that everyone now has pressurized, fully potable water pumped directly to their house. An exaggeration to be sure. There are plenty of places where the water simply does not flow 24/7.Literally no one anymore has pure, non-salty water into their home or business and while CUC claims that the water is perfectly safe to drink no matter how bad it tastes, none of them actually drink it nor does anyone else I know. We all buy reverse osmosis-filtered water from one or more of the providers of that product for drinking, cooking and even car washing, as the CUC product has so much salt in it it rusts out our cars.

Now we learn that a number of the wells that pump the mostly fresh water out of the ground from our lens have been determined to be unsafe and have been shut down. Remember that in a small landmass like ours, it is far easier to pollute our water supply with illegal dumping of oils, service station gas tank leaks, over-fertilization in farming communities, sewage overflows and many other point sources for nasty toxins to get into out tiny water lens. In this case, about half of the 20 shutdown wells are because they are not mechanically sound. The other half are plain and simple polluted. Because our aquifer is fragmented, it takes about 140 wells to get the water from the many small areas of limestone where we can access it. So the loss of 20 wells is not devastating. What is devastating is that the water system itself loses about half the water it produces. We produce twice as much water as CUC is paid for. That is a pretty poor showing after 30 years of working on the problem.

I read a press release from IPI on Wednesday that gave me pause for thought. It basically said hey, like you and many other businesses, we have all taken some pretty hard hits with two massive typhoons, and several other negative factors hitting our tiny economy. Now we have the coronavirus kicking us down and, especially with IPI’s primary customer base, Chinese visitors, totally unable to come to the CNMI, it means they are doing what the government and many other companies are doing, reducing workforce hours in order not to have to lose valuable, trained employees.

They admit they are behind in some payments but promise to bring those up to date by next month…more than the CNMI government will do for certain. When government income is down this much, there are not many options. One is to delay payments when there is not sufficient money to pay them all. The same is true for private sector companies. Ask most of those still remaining in business now after this kick-in-the-gut COVID-19 virus has stopped a huge percentage of our visitors from travelling here.

May I suggest that it is time we unite in support of this, our largest by far single business instead of attacking and kicking them while they are down. If you are a retiree you have enjoyed five years of your 100% retirement pension because IPI has paid it. For the rest of us, our government’s budget more than doubled during those years, from the same IPI coffers mostly, allowing for many more services to be provided to us citizens by our government. IPI even paid their taxes far in advance ($40 million in advance) when they had the resources to do so to help the government ease its tough financial position.

If you like to gamble, well, go on down and try your luck. I don’t, so I will support the food and beverage outlets, the restaurants and bars at the casino. I understand they have plans to open a few more restaurants there and I will be looking forward to trying them out. If you do neither, at least don’t slam them when they are trying to do their best to stay here and continue to be our CNMI’s top producing business and single greatest taxpayer by far. Give some support where it is due. I realize there is a small contingent that wants to see IPI gone from our shores for their own reasons. Just remember that those few nitpickers are totally clueless as to how to replace those tax revenues that IPI brings to the table, or the large multiplier effect their income has as it circulates through our economy, or the hundreds of local jobs provided by IPI.

While you are at it, be a supporter of the other businesses on island that have all been impacted by these challenges and by the current COVID-19 scare. Every one of the major hotels on island is experiencing the same problems of high overhead and a low income stream. Support their restaurants and stay over in their rooms on the weekends if you can. PIC, Kanoa Resort, Saipan World Resort, Grandvrio, Fiesta, Hyatt, Aqua Resort Club, and Kensington all are suffering the same economic shocks. What about the scores of smaller businesses suffering now? Try as you can to support the restaurants and shops that are a vital part of our tourism industry. They too are there through thick and thin. Please support them as well.

I am in full support and I hope you are too.

Thanks for reading Sour Grapes!


“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”
—H. Auden
“All the water that will ever be is, right now.” 
—National Geographic

Bruce Bateman | Author
Bruce A. Bateman (brubat@yahoo.com) resides on Saipan with a wife, a son, and an unknown number of boonie dogs. He has owned and operated a number of unusual businesses and most recently worked as the marketing manager for MVA. Bruce likes to read, travel, tinker with bicycles, hike, swim, and play a bit of golf. He is opinionated and writes when the moon is full and the mood strikes.

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