A Growing Market

Water treatment continues to emerge as an option for groundwater contractors.

By William Wagner

The future of water treatment isn’t somewhere out on the horizon—it’s already here.

Some water treatment equipment displays user history, including total gallons used since installation, which can be used by technicians in troubleshooting.

Look no further than Sandra Baldwin, CWD/PI, president of Well Inspection Services Inc. in Middle Grove, New York. This year, she left the water well drilling company where she had worked to start her inspection business. It was a no-brainer for Baldwin, who saw the writing on the wall in big bright letters.

“I do think interest in water treatment has increased,” says Baldwin. “I got into well inspections because while working for a drilling company, I noticed there were a lot more calls (regarding water treatment). I realized we didn’t have enough technicians to go around, so people were just doing things themselves, which is not what you want. I decided it’s an area that’s growing, and I wanted to be part of it.”

Customers Aware Today

Jim Gruenke has specialized in water treatment for more than 30 years, including the past 22 as water treatment division manager for Mark J. Traut Wells Inc. in Waite Park, Minnesota. During his long career, he has seen a significant shift in perceptions about water treatment.

“People are more aware now of water treatment, but I think the need was always there,” he says. “There is more pursuit of it by water well drillers who recognize the opportunities—that’s become apparent. When I started at Traut, they had water treatment available, but it wasn’t really an emphasis of the company.

“Now we’re a well-rounded drilling company that has branched out into other things. Decades ago, you had to explain to customers what water treatment was. Now that explanation is more established, and our job has switched from more of the what to the why and the how.”

Gruenke has a couple explanations for this evolution.

“The media have done a lot of the job (of raising awareness),” he says. “When there are water issues and people see or read about them in the media, it’s not unusual for them to question their own water quality, and they want to have checks done just in case. Our industry has also done a lot of work to show that the quality of water can be improved. We continue to describe to customers how that works.”

As awareness has grown, water treatment techniques have become more sophisticated. For example, chemicals once were the most common means of addressing water issues. Now, however, filtration has replaced the use of chemical solutions in some instances.

“One of the things we’re doing a lot of is oxidizing through chemical-free means,” Gruenke says. “The method for us is the introduction of air or oxygen to the water. By doing that, we can oxidize whatever impurities are absorbed into the water. In the past, this was all done with chemicals. Our goal is to step away from chemicals. That’s been a good innovation.”

Iron filtration of water feeding an irrigation system plumbed separately from in-house treatment prevents staining from overspray on concrete, siding, and landscape fixtures. In this application, the irrigation filters are on the right with the in-house treatment on the left. The installation allows for parallel flow through a “triplex” bed of filtration media in order to accommodate required flow rates.

Transitioning from chemicals to filtration also has made maintenance simpler for customers.

“The (filtration) equipment performs better with less attention,” Gruenke says. “It’s easier for customers. The more you ask the customer to do, the less chance you have for success. So, the more we take out of their hands, the happier they’ll be. Plus, they don’t have to buy chemicals—the air is free.”

Innovations Continue to Come

The changes in water treatment are a reflection of society’s increasing concern with healthfulness.

“Certainly, I would say there is more interest in knowing the specifics (about water treatment),” Baldwin says. “A few years back, it was more, ‘I need a water softener.’ Now it’s more like, ‘What does that do? What about the salt in it?’ There is more in-depth knowledge that’s wanted. People are more concerned with the residuals of treatment.”

Among the services Baldwin offers are taking water samples, checking well depth, inspecting the treatment system, and checking well logs and state records to get an overall picture of how the water system is working.

“People also seem more scared about well water, which is unfortunate,” she says. “I have a younger couple right now (with whom she is working). The wife is terrified to drink anything other than city water. I want people to feel more comfortable with their wells and to understand that wells are actually the gold standard and that city water is not. My intention is to educate.”

This site has heavy amounts of iron, tannic acids, sulfur odor, and iron-related bacteria along with hardness levels typical for the area. The water treatment was multi-stage to deal with the many parameters and was designed to function with the minimal amount of backwash water available from the shallow-well pump. All images courtesy Jim Gruenke of Mark J. Traut Wells Inc.

For their part, groundwater industry manufacturers are introducing innovations at a breakneck speed to remove impurities such as iron and manganese from well water. Not only are the products more effective, but they also continue to become more efficient.

For example, Gruenke says, “Reverse osmosis has been improved. It’s a piece of equipment—a very fine filtration—that has water fed into it. The higher-quality water is sent through a membrane, and the lower-quality water is rejected. We’re now able to receive purity levels of 90 to 95 percent versus the reject water. In earlier versions of the equipment, almost all your water would be reject water. There is now a much higher efficiency with that equipment.”

Hard water is the most common issue contractors address, and treatments for that also are getting better every year.

“We run the water through a resin bed, and that resin is charged with sodium ions,” Gruenke says. “Those are exchanged for calcium magnesium ions, and then once our resin bed is exhausted, we run through a flushing recharge process. Our current equipment does all this on a metered basis. In times gone by, our technicians estimated how often (the process) needed to occur. Now it’s much more accurate.”

Gruenke says that job No. 1 for contractors is to be well-versed in treating hard water, which is the most common issue. “It’s important to (offer) a line of water softeners in various sizes,” he says. “We have residential and commercial lines (at his company).”

Additionally, contractors always have to be equipped to treat impurities in drinking water, for which he recommends reverse osmosis.

The trick, he says, is to stay on top of the seemingly endless developments in water treatment.

“As long as I’ve been doing this—22 years for Traut and 10 years for a competitor before that—it’s a constant learning curve,” he says. “Even people like me who’ve been in the industry for a long time are constantly learning. The key is to consult with others in the industry. That’s probably the best way I was trained.”

Along those lines, Gruenke has some words of wisdom for contractors interested in becoming more involved in the ever-growing water treatment segment:

“We try to be as innovative as we can,” he says. “Our market is very specialized. Professionals that want to get into this industry should be prepared to be a consultant to their customers and be able to analyze their water and make recommendations based on that.

“I always tell people that there are 20 or 25 different configurations I could recommend, based on someone’s water quality. We really try to customize our work to a particular condition. Contractors have to be prepared to customize rather than plugging their customers into a formula. You’re going to be more successful as a dealer that way. Don’t be worried about stepping out of the box.”

To help meet your professional needs, this column covers skills and competencies found in DACUM charts for drillers, pump installers, and geothermal contractors. DO refers to the drilling chart, PI refers to the pumps chart, and GO represents the geothermal chart. The letter and number immediately following is the skill on the chart covered by the column. This column covers: DOF-2, DOF-5, DOG-9, DOG-10, DOJ-8, PIA-3, PIG-7, PIG-10, PIG-12. More information on DACUM and the charts are available here.

William Wagner is an award-wining writer, editor, and project manager for Wagner Communications. He has written for magazines, newspapers, books, and websites. He lives in the Chicago area and can be reached at william.wagner7@gmail.com.