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  • By C.J. Urquico

Four bills filed to protect Guam's main water source

Sen. Régine Biscoe-Lee today unveiled four bills to protect Northern Guam Lens Aquifer (NGLA), the island's primary water source.

The first legislation, Bill 404-35, aims to decrease the use of septic tanks over the NGLA. Septic tanks leak nitrates that seep through and contaminate the aquifer. The Safe Water Drinking Act sets the maximum levels at 10mg/liter, or 10 parts per million (ppm). Increased nitrates in drinking water pose a health risk to pregnant women and infants.

"In essence, we're talking about 'hanom taki' (water contaminated by feces). Over 80 percent of our water source should be protected to address preventable health issues. Keeping the aquifers clean will also save the island money and keep water rates from the Guam Waterworks Authority (GWA) affordable," Biscoe-Lee said. "Contamination above acceptable federal levels can result in costly fines and the added cost of building new treatment systems."

Bill 405-35 establishes a task force, led by the lt. governor, to oversee future land use over the aquifer. The establishment of groundwater conservation areas can lead to new public parks, conservation areas, and future research programs.

"This initiative provides a framework so that we can work together. Our mission is to provide reliable scientific advice so decisions can be made. We are also training local talent to continue the work in the future. We have the world's best aquifer." said Dr. John Jenson, professor of Environmental Geology at the Water and Environmental Research Institute.

"We're studying GWA wells looking at trends of nitrates, the trendline of increasing or decreasing. In the next 20 years, nitrates can increase to 1 part per million. More than 20 wells can grow to 5 ppm. Water drank by pregnant women and infants may cause Methemoglobinemia or blue baby syndrome," said Dr. Nathan Habana, principal hydrologist at WERI. "Once it gets into the aquifer, there's nothing we can do about it."

The Guam Environmental Protection Agency flags wells that are over five ppm. Nitrates can't be removed by boiling or by filtration.

Bill 406-35, co-sponsored by Sen. Therese Terlaje, has provisions for the regular inspection of Chamorro Land Trust Commission properties for illegal dumping. The bill aims to increase the agency's revenue and to facilitate the removal of abandoned cars, oil, appliances and other refuse to eliminate sources of contaminants for the aquifer.

"We have a massive inventory of government lots in the northern areas. We're making great strides with Guam EPA, the Mayor's Council, Department of Public Works (DPW), to monitor areas," said Jack Hattig, director of the CLTC.

Bill 407-35 provides transparency and protects applicants from the cost-prohibitive installation of utilities that usually leads to the abandonment of leaseholds. Under the bill, applicants seeking a 99-year lease agreement would be informed of available utilities prior to CLTC's approval.

"We are fortunate to inherit this place. One of the best things we have is limestone filtered water. The NGLA supports our island of over 160,000 and 1.5 million people visitors per year." Biscoe-Lee said.

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