Water Well Journal Q&A

National Ground Water Association’s
William “Bill” Alley, Ph.D., and Chuck Job

Importance of groundwater sustainability discussed by industry’s top experts.

By Mike Price

Bill Alley, Ph.D,

The December issue of Water Well Journal focuses on groundwater sustainability, a key topic affecting the industry and every membership section of the National Ground Water Association.

NGWA continues to intensify its focus on groundwater sustainability. In August 2016, NGWA updated its position paper on sustainable groundwater resources, and adopted definitions of “sustainability” and “resilience” as they pertain to groundwater to develop well-conceived policies and best practices to ensure a water-secure future. NGWA’s updated position paper delineates principles to guide best practices for groundwater resource sustainability.

WWJ wanted to learn more about the issue and what role water well

Chuck Job

system professionals play, so we decided to speak with NGWA’s top experts on the subject—Director of Science and Technology William “Bill” Alley, Ph.D., and Manager of Regulatory Affairs Chuck Job.

Before NGWA, Alley served as chief of the Office of Groundwater at the U.S. Geological Survey for almost two decades. Job worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for nearly 30 years, having served since 2000 as its infrastructure branch chief.

Alley has recently spoken to various water organizations on the world’s growing dependence on groundwater.

Water Well Journal: Due to a growing population and the resource being finite, the topic of groundwater sustainability is increasingly becoming more prominent today. What do water well system professionals need to know about it? What are some sources of information you recommend for further understanding?

Chuck Job: The NGWA position paper, Sustainable Groundwater Resources, is a key place to start. The position covers principles of sharing information, participating to set local resource objectives, recognizing the water cycle in decisions, using efficient equipment, protecting and remediating source water, reporting water observations, addressing system vulnerabilities, and regularly reassessing groundwater management.

Bill Alley: Water well system professionals should have a good idea of general groundwater conditions and the factors of most concern in their area that might affect sustainability of the resource, whether it be water quality, land subsidence, or streamflow depletion. As noted by Chuck, NGWA has specific information on groundwater sustainability. There is also additional information on related topics at the NGWA website under the Advocacy/Awareness and Groundwater Fundamentals tabs.

WWJ: How should sustainability factor in when designing a well system?

Alley: Sustainability is typically thought of as a more regional than site-specific concept, but in fact, proper well system design can be a major contributor to groundwater sustainability, as it relates to protecting the quality of aquifers. In this sense, water well system professionals are on the front lines of sustainability.

Job: Take a local “big picture” look at location and use of the well system. Address such questions as: What is the local water use culture? What local water objectives should be considered? What is the useful life and cost of ownership of the well system? Are the materials and equipment long-lived? Are key parts of the system—water table, well screen and casing, pump, wellhead—able to support extremes of weather and use?

WWJ: Bill, one of the themes in your book, High and Dry: Meeting the Challenges of the World’s Growing Dependence on Groundwater, is achieving sustainable long-term yields from aquifers. How do water well system professionals play a part in this?

Alley: Water well system professionals meet with groundwater users daily and are knowledgeable about local conditions. Thus, they’re well positioned to educate the public about the responsible management and use of groundwater.

WWJ: The average well owner might be limited in their knowledge of groundwater sustainability. What guidance would you give to a water well system professional to offer their customers?

Alley: Again, I think the role of water well system professionals as communicators is key. They can point people to local resources about groundwater, as well as the NGWA website, Wellowner.org.

Job: Communicate to customers on the principles identified in the NGWA position paper on Sustainable Groundwater Resources. Water well system professionals are in a great place to be able to relate to customers’ needs, and sustainable actions customers can take as water users.

WWJ: How is the drought that is significant in certain regions of the country affecting water systems? Is better drought education needed?

Alley: A key need is to maintain people’s interest and concerns about groundwater during both wet and dry periods. There is a tendency for the public and media to forget about groundwater during wet periods.

Job: Clearly, some water systems do not have sufficient water supply and are hamstrung by relying on water use technologies designed for more abundant water settings or times. Drought education provided by water well system professionals in the field needs to reinforce a longer view of the groundwater resource and should address local water constraints where appropriate over long time periods.

WWJ: Chuck, you talk with government officials regularly on water issues. How does the aging water infrastructure here in the United States, particularly aging water pipes, factor in achieving a more sustainable model? What do you hope changes for small community water systems utilizing groundwater?  

Job: Aging pipes can affect water loss, an issue with multiple impacts—less water available, more pumping to meet demand, and therefore more energy used. Measuring what is coming out of the ground and into the house or business may be useful in guiding decisions for water-using appliances and practices affecting the household or company bottom line.

Small systems need a full inventory of their infrastructure, just like large systems. Useful life of equipment needs to be known and recognized in a financial plan that allows for regular maintenance and replacement rather than crisis reaction. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has several tools for small water systems such as its “Check Up Program for Small Systems” (free software for asset management) and other techniques.

See NGWA Position Paper on Sustainability
To read the NGWA position paper, Sustainable Groundwater Resources, click on “Position Papers” under the Publications/Bookstore tab at www.NGWA.org. One of 23 position papers created by NGWA, it discusses principles that can guide best practices for groundwater sustainability.

WWJ: What do you foresee as NGWA’s role in promoting groundwater sustainability and good groundwater governance?

Alley: This is a natural role for NGWA given our mix of water well system professionals, manufacturers, suppliers, and scientists and engineers. NGWA’s vision is to be the leading groundwater association advocating the responsible development, management, and use of water. A key role is providing educational opportunities for our members, as well as others ranging from homeowners to congressional staffers.

Job: NGWA can be actively involved in identifying and promoting technology that is directed at the needs of small water systems, including convening government and industry to focus on research needs. Relative to governance, it is difficult to manage when you do not have measurements to do so.

NGWA’s members, in collaboration with other water organizations, could lead in establishing overarching resource goals and objectives, recognizing regional variations in the process. They could facilitate water sector reporting on a regular basis at levels that protect confidentiality for key indicators of sustainability—such as installed wellhead elevation, water loss check, well and septic system inspections completed. Having the information come from industry may preclude government direction and allow the industry to innovate on its own.

WWJ: Lastly, you both worked in federal government positions. What role do you see governments playing in achieving sustainability throughout the world?

Alley: The federal government can provide valuable monitoring, resource assessment, and research and development, as well as appropriate regulations to protect the environment and public health. The federal government shares many of these responsibilities in partnership with the states.

Job: Governments can encourage schools and colleges and universities to train people—children and adults—to take the longer view of their world. Governments can focus on education about fundamental resource needs, funding technologies, research supporting alternatives, and working with industrial sectors to develop business practices and sustainable use alternatives.

In the United States, local promotion through the economy might use rebates, grants, and price incentives for turning over plumbing fixtures and managing physical, chemical, and microbial objectives for safe water quality. Promoting personal actions to conserve and protect water will reinforce educational objectives and infrastructure decisions directed toward groundwater sustainability.

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