Summary appraisals of the Nation's ground-water resources; Caribbean region

Professional Paper 813-U




The Caribbean Region consists of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (8,990 km2 (square kilometers)) and the U.S. Virgin Islands (350 km2). The mean annual precipitation varies locally from a high of 5,000 mm (millimeters) to a low of 730 mm. Maximum precipitation occurs within the peaks of Sierra de Luquillo, and minimum precipitation occurs along the windward parts of the smaller islands and in southwestern Puerto Rico, which lies in a rain shadow. The annual average precipitation is 1,800 mm in Puerto Rico and 1,061 mm in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Of this amount 1,130 mm in Puerto Rico and 990 mm in the U.S. Virgin Islands are lost to evapotranspiration.

Aquifers constitute a valuable resource in the Caribbean Region. In Puerto Rico, ground-water withdrawals supply about 38 percent of the total water requirements, whereas in the U.S. Virgin Islands they supply 10 percent. Of the ground-water withdrawal of 350 hm3/yr (cubic hectometers per year) in Puerto Rico, 54 percent is used for irrigation, 29 percent is used by industry, and 17 percent is used for public water supply. Ground-water withdrawal in the U.S. Virgin Islands is about 1.9 hm3/yr and is almost equally distributed between public supply and privately owned wells. Based on past trends and future economic expectations in the region, estimates are that by 1985 ground-water pumpage in Puerto Rico will be about 426 hm3/yr with additional future development potential; U.S. Virgin Islands pumpage may amount to 4.5 hm3/yr, which is the estimated maximum sustained yield of all aquifers under natural recharge conditions.

Most large ground-water developments in Puerto Rico have been in the North Coast and South Coast ground-water provinces. The North Coast province contains the island's most productive aquifer, which was virtually undeveloped until 1968, when an artesian system having a 150-meter head was tapped. Since then, the artesian aquifer has undergone rapid development for industrial water supply. The extent of the artesian system is unknown, but it has been tapped within the Montebello Limestone Member of the Cibao Formation and in the upper part of the Lares Limestone. The south-coast aquifer consists of deep alluvial deposits. This aquifer has been extensively developed for irrigation and industrial water supply and can sustain only minor future development under present water-management conditions.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands the most extensive aquifer is fragmented igneous rock, but the most productive aquifers are the marl and alluvial deposits of central St. Croix. Although yields from wells in central St. Croix are low (less than 6.3 liters per second), the aquifer provides about 0.86 hm3/yr to public water-supply wells and 0.54 hm3/yr to private wells. Future development within this aquifer could probably produce an additional 1.0 hm3/yr under natural infiltration conditions.

Ground-water resources will continue to be important within the region. In order to meet future needs, it is necessary that hydrologic principles be applied in managing the total water resource. Optimal use of the water resources can be accomplished through conjunctive use of surface and ground waters and through conservation practices. Optimal use may involve artificial recharge, ground-water salvage, saline-ground-water mining, use of seawater, desalination of saline ground water, waste-water reuse, and use of underground space for temporary storage of wastes, which could otherwise contaminate valuable water supplies.

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USGS Numbered Series
Summary appraisals of the Nation's ground-water resources; Caribbean region
Series title:
Professional Paper
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U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location:
Washington, D.C.
Report: vi, 32 p.; 2 Plates: 26.00 x 20.84 inches and 26.00 x 18.79 inches
Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands
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