A Steady Hand

Published On: April 19, 2021By Categories: 75 Years of WWJ

WWJ helped guide groundwater professionals through the up’s and down’s of the 1980s.

By Thad Plumley

The decade of the 1980s began with a miracle and a popular question. Sadly, it ended with a disaster.

And in between? Water Well Journal was there every month as a resource helping groundwater professionals navigate a tricky decade.

The 1980s began with the nation in awe of the Miracle on Ice after the U.S. men’s hockey team defeated the Soviet Union 4-3 at the 1980 Winter Olympics on February 22 in Lake Placid, New York. Less than one month later, the television show Dallas had a country asking, “Who shot J.R.?”

Nine years later, though, the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil when it ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989—disastrously damaging more than 1000 miles of coastline, and impacting the area for decades.

For the groundwater industry, the decade didn’t come close to beginning on a high. Groundwater professionals faced a sluggish economy and low housing starts.

A lifeline fortunately came in the way of an exploding environmental market on the heels of the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and other recently passed federal laws and regulations. Many of these rules required the drilling of monitoring wells, and water well contractors were more than happy to do so.

WWJ Editor-in-Chief Jay Lehr wrote about the unfolding opportunity in the February 1980 issue with an Editor’s Page article titled “Monitoring: The New Frontier.”

The journal continued to cover the exploding field throughout the decade, and near the end of it, had a special monitoring issue with its May 1988 publication.

Throughout the decade, the journal discussed other new innovations that could impact the groundwater industry. Its August 1980 publication was a special issue titled “Computers and the Water Well Industry.”

A new column in WWJ, Treat It Right, debuted in the January 1988 issue, discussing water treatment, a field some contractors were beginning to diversify into to expand their business.

Other topics discussed during the decade were the continuing problem of combatting iron bacteria and the growth of hydrofracturing of water wells in areas where water was difficult to extract with normal means.

Another column that debuted in the decade was Something to Crow About by Andy Crow. Written bi-monthly and discussing issues deemed important relating to the jobsite, it was very popular.

Near the conclusion of the decade was the November 1989 issue which was a “Special Issue: Your Industry’s Most Influential.” It talked about the contributions of many who had shaped and impacted the groundwater profession as it headed into the last decade of the 20th century.


Thad Plumley is the editor of WWJ and director of information products at the National Ground Water Association. He can be reached at tplumley@ngwa.org, or (800) 551-7379, ext. 1594.

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