Chelsey and Jacob Crabtree, CWD, CVCLD, of Living Water for Haiti
By Mike Price
Chelsey and Jacob Crabtree, CWD, CVCLD, of Crabtree Drilling LLC in Springfield, Ohio, founded Living Water for Haiti in October 2015. They drill water wells in the region of Jérémie, a coastal city on the tip of Haiti’s southern peninsula, and assist with other needs in the region, including supporting an orphanage and building homes.
Jacob’s first trip to Haiti came in December 2003 while drilling a well for Haiti Mission Inc. Both Jacob and Chelsey fell in love with the people of Haiti and since 2003 have drilled 40 wells with two cable tool rigs. Jacob, 45, travels to Haiti six to nine times a year to drill and has trained a four-man crew to operate the rigs when he isn’t there. Hand well pumps are installed for wells down to 250 feet; solar pumps are installed for wells 250 feet or deeper.
“We could drill every half-mile, the need is so great,” Chelsey says. “We drill in Jérémie where it impacts the most people where there is no water.”
Jacob, a third-generation water well driller, says what he has learned the most is patience in staying the course to get the well done because the conditions are so difficult.
Before they were to leave for Haiti in November, Water Well Journal caught up with Jacob and Chelsey in Springfield to find out more about Living Water for Haiti and their business back home.
Water Well Journal: What are some of the toughest challenges you’ve faced drilling in Haiti? Some of the most common challenges?
Jacob: The toughest challenge is picking the spot, and within that spot, you have to make sure it’s public land so it’s not sold if someone owns the property. The need is so great, so it’s picking the location. The infrastructure is so bad that it’s finding a location where the need is and being able to get the equipment there to be able to drill.
Other challenges are keeping the equipment running, funding, the language barrier, and working with the helpers.
WWJ: Many water well system professionals drill relief wells in water-stricken countries. What is your advice to a professional who is considering drilling relief wells?
Jacob: My advice would be to build relationships within a community where you want to do it and not impose American culture upon them. You have to work within what their culture is about and what they accept. You have to have a relationship within these people. It’s more of a community-based thing; this is their property. If you get the well done and leave, they’re going to sell the water because it’s their property, it’s their well. You have to build relationships within the communities, within the people, and know the culture. Their frame of mind is so different than ours.
Also, don’t get frustrated when things go bad. When you’re there you have to realize problems are going to happen. It’s going to be difficult; you’re going to run into issues every day. You just have to keep a smile on your face and say, “Okay, we’ll do this tomorrow.”
WWJ: What are the keys to a well system’s effectiveness after you leave?
Jacob: Creating drill logs and good record keeping so you know where you drilled the water well with the help of GPS (global positioning system), and either staffing someone or every time you’re there going back and making sure the wells are maintained and repaired if necessary. We’d like to do a better job at actually testing the water. We try to sanitize them every time we repair them.
WWJ: You received the 2016 Ohio Water Well Association Humanitarian Award. How did it feel to be recognized by your peers?
Chelsey: We’re very appreciative of the award, but there is always a balance we’re fighting. How do you let people know what is going on in Haiti and not take the credit? It’s kind of a fine line you walk, especially as Christians. It’s a privilege for us to be doing this.
WWJ: You’re a Certified Well Driller (CWD) and Certified Vertical Closed Loop Driller (CVCLD) with the National Ground Water Association. Why did you pursue these certifications and how have they come into play drilling in the United States and in Haiti?
The infrastructure is so bad that it’s finding a location where the need is and being able to get the equipment there to be able to drill.
Jacob: The certifications I pursued were to improve who we are as a drilling company, increase my knowledge, and to expand and grow. The water well industry in 2008-2009 was affected by the housing collapse and we expanded into geothermal and that’s become our mainstay. Since 2008, we have been 95 percent geothermal. In 2007, we probably did close to 300 wells, 127 wells in 2008, 25 wells in 2009. To keep the business growing, we had to diversify into geothermal.
In Haiti, the increased knowledge I’ve gained has helped me teach it to others.
WWJ: How do you balance overseeing your business in Springfield and drilling in Haiti as often as you do?
Jacob: We’ve got a good core group of guys and keep staff to generally under 10 on staff. My sister is in the office as well and can take care of permitting. My dad, Mark, still helps out. He came with me to Haiti, and it was the coolest trip. (waiting for more on this to add a sentence on it)
Chelsey: We have three incredible drillers on our staff, so when Jake leaves they run it. They take over and step up when we’re gone. That’s really been the key. Without them I don’t think he could be gone as often as he is. Last Christmas they took a collection amongst them and gave us money to go drill a water well in Haiti. We were blown away. It was a crying moment for us to see them care so much about Haiti.
WWJ: Here in the United States, what are the biggest challenges facing water well system professionals?
Jacob: The economic impacts right now. New regulations are getting tougher, which I’m not opposed to because it keeps out some of the stuff that is being done improperly. Guys who are doing it right—licensed, taking care of all the permits—there is a struggle with the do-it-yourselfer on the pump side.
On the commercial side, which is mostly geothermal for us, it’s being competitive within your bids and job costs. Also, to make the job both profitable and to do it properly. Our struggle has been being able to be competitive in the bidding process and maintaining good, quality work.
Our business has changed. We went from if we drove to Xenia, Ohio, 28 miles down the road, the guys would be complaining because it’s a long drive. Now we’ve just finished a job in Minnesota. The rig leaves Monday (October 9) for Tennessee. We just finished one in West Virginia. For us, our water well industry has gone away and not come back, so our biggest struggle is keeping our guys busy and having a good job.
Chelsey: We’re really thankful for our guys. I hope they know that, and we always try to tell them that and compensate them. It feels like family.
WWJ: Lastly, what is your most memorable experience drilling in Haiti?
Jacob: The worst was when we were finishing a well (in November 2015) and people had been waiting and we dropped the pump down a 580-foot well. It was during the dry season. We had gotten to know all the kids and every day when we were working there they’d hop in the back of the truck and we’d drive them two miles to where they picked up water to bring back to where they live.
You’re building yourself up with “today is the day these guys are going to have water,” and as we were literally setting the pump it broke off the pipe and dropped down the well. I was crushed. I didn’t show it there. I said, “We’ll get this, we’ll be back, we’ve got to go the United States so we can fix it,” but when I was on the plane, I broke down. I’m not an emotional kind of guy, but I knew all these kids would be walking every day to get water until I got back. What struck me was we were so close to changing their lives.
The happiest day was when that well was flowing about a month later. It was dirty because it took a lot of time to clean. It took two weeks of pumping to get it really clean. When it started coming through, to see and hear kids giggle and adults laugh; to see people running and singing, it was crazy. There were people running down the streets with their buckets. That was the best day. I hugged Chelsey and gave her a kiss.
Mike Price is the senior editor of Water Well Journal. In addition to his WWJ responsibilities, Price produces NGWA’s newsletter and contributes to the Association’s quarterly scientific publication. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.