Analysis of existing data and information collected on a reconnaissance field visit supports a conceptual model of ground-water occurrence in Ta'u, American Samoa, in which a thin freshwater lens exists in a predominantly high-permeability aquifer that receives high rates of recharge. Because the freshwater lens is thin throughout most of the island, the productivity of wells, especially those near the coast where the lens is the thinnest, is likely to be limited by saltwater intrusion.
The landfill in northwestern Ta'u is closer to the north coast of the island than to any of the existing or proposed well sites. Although this may indicate that ground water beneath the landfill would flow away from the existing and proposed well sites, this interpretation may change depending on the hydraulic properties of a fault and rift zone in the area. Of four plausible scenarios tested with a numerical ground-water flow model, only one scenario indicated that ground water from beneath the landfill would flow toward the existing and proposed well sites; the analysis does not, however, assess which of the four scenarios is most plausible. The analysis also does not consider the change in flow paths that will result from ground-water withdrawals, dispersion of contaminants during transport by ground water, other plausible hydrogeologic scenarios, transport of contaminants by surface-water flow, or that sources of contamination other than the landfill may exist.
Accuracy of the hydrologic interpretations in this study is limited by the relatively sparse data available for Ta'u. Understanding water resources on Ta'u can be advanced by monitoring rainfall, stream-flow, evaporation, ground-water withdrawals, and water quality, and with accurate surveys of measuring point elevations for all wells and careful testing of well-performance. Assessing the potential for contaminants in the landfill to reach existing and proposed well sites can be improved with additional information on the landfill itself (history, construction, contents, water chemistry), surface-water flow directions, spatial distribution of ground-water levels, and the quality of water in nearby wells. Monitoring water levels and chemistry in one or more monitoring wells between the landfill and existing or proposed wells can provide a means to detect movement of contaminants before they reach production wells. Steps that can be implemented in the short term include analyzing water in the landfill and monitoring of water chemistry and water levels in all existing and new production wells.
Placing future wells farther inland may mitigate saltwater intrusion problems, but the steep topography of Ta'u limits the feasibility of this approach. Alternative solutions include distributing ground-water withdrawal among several shallow-penetrating, low-yield wells.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Reconnaissance of the Hydrogeology of Ta'u, American Samoa