A Servant Leader

Jason House, LG, PG, will be just the second from the Scientists and Engineers Section to serve as NGWA president.

By Mike Price

Multiple milestones will be achieved in December when Jason House, LG, PG, becomes president of the National Ground Water Association.

Incoming 2023 National Ground Water Association President Jason House, LG, PG, will be just the second from the Scientists and Engineers Section to serve as NGWA president.

For just the second time in the Association’s 74-year history, a member from the Scientists and Engineers Section will serve as president. House follows in the footsteps of Scott King, PG, P.Geo., LHG, who served in 2019. It will also mark the first time the Association has had back-to-back professional geologists as presidents.

“Both being geologists, we had a common bond along with both being Chicago Blackhawks fans,” says Brian Snelten, PG, current NGWA president and area manager for Layne Christensen, A Granite Company, in Aurora, Illinois.

“Having been a consultant in my previous career, there was another commonality we shared. Both of our companies worked together on a project in Illinois, and he was great to work with.”

Snelten knew after seeing King make history as president that House possessed the ability and leadership skills to lead the Association. They spent time over the years discussing how they could make the four membership sections work together to advance NGWA. Those discussions have now become reality.

“Jason’s attention to detail on the board will serve him well to lead the Association,” says Snelten, who will hand House the president’s gavel at Groundwater Week 2022, December 6-8 in Las Vegas, Nevada. “His work on our financial and government affairs committees have helped him know the skills needed as a president to lead the board too on tough discussions and decisions.”

House, who is a practice leader of applied hydrogeology and senior principal at Woodard & Curran Inc. in Portland, Maine, brings a collaborative leadership style and unique experience working in a team environment from serving in the Army National Guard in the 1990s.

His six years of military service were foundational to his life outlook which he brings to meetings where he has learned valuable lessons from past NGWA presidents and board members. He also hasn’t been hesitant to seek out advice from King on a variety of issues.

“His [King’s] tremendous strength is his even nature and his ability to look at things holistically and in a detached manner and remove the emotion and look at it in a critical way,” observes the 51-year-old House. “I think I’ve tried to learn that from him.”

Serving on the NGWA Scientists and Engineers Section Board of Directors since 2012, House and other section board members have been busy working to remedy the groundwater industry’s top concerns: finding employees—particularly the younger generation—and properly training new hires, with the Drilling Basics Online learning platform.

The platform, which debuted earlier this year through a collaboration with Oklahoma State University, was created to increase access to the basics of water well contracting and groundwater science. It aids in both the recruitment (outreach for education and career opportunities) and training dilemma with multiple levels of content developed by NGWA experts and volunteers who have dedicated their lives to the industry.

“I’ve been involved with Drilling Basics from the early stages and currently am on the committee,” says House, who sees it as one of his chief priorities in 2023. “I see that role continuing and potentially expanding a bit as new courses require development and as they come online.”

House at a site inspection of a former mine site and field meeting in September 2022 in New Mexico.

NGWA Board Director David Traut, MGWC, CVCLD, has witnessed firsthand House’s laser-focused attention while working alongside him on Drilling Basics Online and in board meetings.

“Jason is a very detailed and disciplined individual,” says Traut, vice president of Mark J. Traut Wells Inc. in Waite Park, Minnesota. “If there is ever a topic that needs review of all the different aspects before making a decision, he is the one person who will get every rock turned over.”

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It was at Groundwater Week 2003 in Orlando, Florida, where House became energized to volunteer for NGWA.

As one of the 3751 attendees, House interacted with diverse members of the industry from across the United States at the annual event. This led him to discover the Ground Water Modeling Interest Group Committee, which was central to his work at the time. He began serving as committee secretary in 2004 and later served as chair of it.

While also attending Groundwater Week 2003, House gained leadership skills by chance while standing outside the room that was hosting the NGWA Director Candidates School by then-CEO Kevin McCray, CAE. McCray saw House looking at the sign and invited him to attend the hour-and-a-half-long leadership course.

“That was a really good experience for someone early on in their career,” House says.

Both the leadership course and the exchange of ideas on the Ground Water Modeling Interest Group Committee with a cross-section of professionals had a snowball effect on House. He proceeded to serve on numerous committees, leading up to being elected by the Scientists and Engineers Board of Directors at Groundwater Week 2011.

“There’s a wealth of knowledge at NGWA,” House explains, “and if we can tap that and get it out and recognize it, that’s one of the things that keeps me going and keeps me volunteering. I feel like I learn something every time I participate in a NGWA event or go to a NGWA meeting. I think really keeping the mind fresh and being a lifelong learner is the best for everybody.”

House, who has been at Woodard & Curran for nearly 26 years, credits Groundwater Week for helping him grasp various industry practices, including well development methods using dual swage blocks with a concentrator in the middle to work individual sections of the well screen, chemical use, and other well products.

Similarly, House wants today’s hydrogeologists, geologists, and engineers to better understand the job specifications they’re helping to write by interacting with contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers at the annual event.

“We shouldn’t be afraid to talk to each other,” he states. “Maybe the drillers can learn from a hydrogeologist too, but we have a lot to learn from each other.

House taught himself how to play the bagpipes following a trip with his wife to Scotland in the early 2000s. Here House gets ready for the parade, Northeast Shrine Field Days, in September 2012 in Bangor, Maine.

“Scientists and engineers, whether in water development or groundwater remediation or water reuse—anything that involves boots on the ground and working in the field—owe it to themselves to hear what the contractors have to say and approach it with an open mind because there’s decades and centuries of experience in that section of our organization. We really need to make sure we’re taking into account the knowledge and experience they have.”

With 27 years in the industry, House has shared his technical knowledge at past Groundwater Summits (now the Science & Engineering Forum at Groundwater Week) for the Scientists and Engineers Section. House will present “Analyses of Groundwater Containment System Operations and Monitoring Data at a VOC Bedrock Site” at Groundwater Week 2022.

Like NGWA’s nearly 10,000 members, House is passionate about protecting groundwater and the use of sound science to make decisions on federal policy. But he’s not naïve to the current state of the industry.

“Right now, it’s still difficult times, still recovering from the pandemic, still supply chain issues,” he says, “so anything that we can do for our membership to maximize their impact within the industry and the impact on the profitability of their businesses really should be the focus of our year moving forward.”

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Many who serve or have served on the NGWA Board of Directors have expressed excitement in seeing House lead the Association in 2023. King is one of them.

The NGWA past president served with House for more than 12 years on committees, Scientists and Engineers Section Board, and NGWA Board. Apart from House being a Chicago Blackhawks fan, King, who cheers for the Buffalo Sabres in the National Hockey League, has nothing but positive praise for him.

“In all of his activities Jason has shown the leadership skills, temperament, and industry insight that will make him a successful president of NGWA,” King says. “I’m particularly proud that Jason has risen from the Scientists and Engineers Section and proven himself at the NGWA Board level by taking on roles as section vice president, treasurer, secretary, and now president-elect.

“It takes a lot to earn the trust of fellow NGWA Board members to be elected president—no matter which section you belong to—and Jason has easily done that. The groundwater industry is in a time when the issues we face will take all of us working together to address and advance the industry for all of our members. I know that Jason appreciates all aspects of what our members do, knows how to lead the Board, and will serve NGWA well.”

Serving six years in the Army National Guard from 1990-1996, with four years in an infantry unit in Maine and two years in an artillery unit in Colorado, House quickly learned to lean on others to accomplish the given mission. It has certainly served him well both professionally and at NGWA.

House on family vacation, taken at the Old Lahaina Luau on August 5, 2022, in Maui, Hawaii.

“It taught me that when people are united behind a common adversity or a common goal, that when they’re all pulling on the same piece of the rope and in the same direction, when all that happens and all that clicks, great things can happen,” shares House, the youngest of six children whose brother, Mike, served in the Air Force.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for our veterans and people who have served our country, and people can learn from that service—that you can depend on others—and you need to depend on others in order to get the mission accomplished.”

House not only takes comfort in knowing that the groundwater industry is fully represented by the NGWA Board of Directors and its four respective section boards, but he believes their greatest strength is the diversity of thoughts and experiences.

They are freely shared in a “collaborative environment,” House says, where board members have learned that the industry advances when everyone works together.

“We have that working relationship that’s founded on respect and the knowledge that we can speak our minds without fear of condemnation,” he says, “and that comes from a really long path to getting to mutual respect and admiration. I think the folks who are on the board are just the greatest people I’ve ever worked with, and we know that decisions that we make and that we have made are the best informed that they can be.”

It doesn’t hurt to have a sense of humor during board meetings, and House’s dry wit comes from his father, Lawrence, fondly known as “Punk,” who was a jokester at heart. He saw how his father used humor to disarm people to get their minds off their troubles.

“Putting people at ease helps to relieve tension because you feel tension building in a room,” House says. “If you can get people to laugh and get people to ease up a little, then the thinking begins to flow again, and honestly, I don’t really think about it in terms of that’s what I’m trying to do. But it’s more you sense something and you’re like, ‘Geez, these people need to lighten up.’”

Snelten simply states: “He’s probably the funniest guy I’ve met and can have a room of people rolling in laughter in minutes.”

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House envisioned becoming an environmental attorney while attending Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, but his plans changed after taking just one geology class.

The class captivated him. He followed with classes in environmental geology and hydrogeology and his mind was made up.

“I realized that groundwater is where I wanted to be and where I wanted to work for a considerable part of my career,” says House who graduated from Bowdoin College with a degree in geology and environmental studies in 1993.

House earned a master’s degree in geophysics from the Colorado School of Mines in 1995. Following graduation, he worked as a geophysicist at Raypath Inc. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before joining Woodard & Curran in 1997.

Of his four areas of specialty, the bulk of House’s work focuses on water resource development and groundwater modeling. He worked on several groundwater remediation projects early in his career and expanded into water supply development projects in the late 1990s to early 2000s, which cemented his decision to continue doing this type of work for the rest of his career.

“The country, in fact the world, has extensive stress on water resources and that area will continue to be a focus for our company and a focus for the industry obviously,” says House, whose wife, Mary, also works at Woodard & Curran as director of the environmental services group.

“The groundwater modeling work that I do supports a number of aspects of both that resource development and groundwater remediation, so working on groundwater resource development, groundwater source protection, groundwater remediation, and site characterization are all kind of folded into that groundwater modeling work that I do.”

With his company having offices across the United States, including seven alone in California, House has worked on projects in several states over the course of his career. He applauds NGWA for being a champion in tackling the question of how to better manage water resources in the West through managed aquifer recharge and conservation.

“We really have a role in supporting that and trying to shift industry thinking towards groundwater as being part of the infrastructure as opposed to this thing that is sort of esoteric and unseen and unknown,” says House, who was recommended the book, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, by Snelten and likewise recommends it to others for background on water resources in the West.

“The truth is we know a lot about it, and we can manage it in a meaningful way that will be impactful to quality of life and availability of resources.”

House’s favorite aspect of being a consultant is working on different projects. It makes each day that much more interesting.

“There are nuances to every project and so I might have to shift focus for a little bit and dig into something new and understand it,” he says.

As practice leader of the applied hydrogeology practice, House provides senior-level technical leadership, oversight, and review for Woodard & Curran’s hydrogeologists and hydrogeological projects. House has improved the hydrogeology practice, tieing together a broad range of services across geographies, and added a focus to knowledge sharing and education that is helping grow the next generation at the company.

“Jason is an excellent teacher and communicator by distilling complex concepts for a variety of audiences,” observes Nick Hastings, PG, LEP,  senior principal at Woodard & Curran’s Middletown, Connecticut, office and visiting professorin the Earth & Environmental Science Department at Wesleyan University.

“I’ve seen him command the attention of a room full of stakeholders and regulators as well as guest lecturer for my students and the department at Wesleyan University. His ability to engage with different groups and convey both the content of and his passion for hydrogeology is a special skill indeed.”

House, who has two children, Eliza and Ian, is appreciative of how supportive Woodard & Curran have been with his NGWA volunteer work and family work-life balance. He also offers high praise for Snelten who juggled it all while leading NGWA in 2022.

“He’s shepherded us out of the pandemic and got us back into the swing of things and more even keel on operations,” House says. “He’s been very supportive of our industries operating as a whole and working together across the sections.”

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A bit of a numbers guy, House has learned the most by serving on both the NGWA Audit Subcommittee and Finance and Budget Standing Committee. He has enjoyed digging into audits and understanding the financials.

“It’s a big part of making sure NGWA is stable now and into the future,” he says.

House hopes his family can join him at Groundwater Week 2022 when he receives the gavel from Snelten. He says he couldn’t have made it without their support, especially his wife.

NGWA board members and past presidents will also be providing the support that House needs in 2023.

“Jason is a really thoughtful, understanding, and respectful person who is a pleasure to work with,” commends NGWA Scientists and Engineers Section Board of Directors Chair Timothy Parker, PG, CEG, CHG.

“While Jason was SES chair, he paid attention to detail, demonstrated his ability to listen, and encouraged people to make progress.”

All part of being a servant leader.

Fun Facts About House
  • Personal interests include playing the bagpipes, fishing, hunting, hiking, and snorkeling
  • Favorite movie is Back to the Future
  • First job at age 15 was at Decoster Egg Farms as a groundskeeping crewmember.

Mike Price is the senior editor of Water Well Journal. In addition to his WWJ responsibilities, Price contributes to the Association’s scientific publications. He can be reached at mprice@ngwa.org, or at (800) 551-7379, ext. 1541.