Continuing to Learn

2019 McEllhiney Lecturer shares what he learned through travels.

By Gary L. Hix, RG, CWD/PI

As the 2019 McEllhiney Lecturer for the National Ground Water Association, I had the honor of traveling the United States and visiting different state associations and speaking to water well contractors, pump installers, regulators, groundwater consultants, manufacturers, and suppliers.

I was privileged to continue the task of honoring William A. McEllhiney, the first president of NGWA. The mission of the McEllhiney Lecture is to promote a further understanding and knowledge of the well drilling industry and business management trends. As such, I was asked to be both a lecturer and a teacher.

After giving my presentations and having numerous conversations with water well contractors, pump installers, regulators, and groundwater consultants—I began to see how differently each state looks at the management of their groundwater resources and the licensing of their groundwater professionals.

As a groundwater professional myself, a former licensed water well contractor, a licensed real estate instructor, and a private well owner, I’m always fascinated about all matters relating to private water wells. I became extremely interested in how and why each state manages them so differently. So instead of being solely a teacher, I found myself becoming a student in each state I visited.

We know groundwater does not recognize state boundaries, so lawmakers have assumed vastly different perspectives on how groundwater should be managed when formulating their laws.

The management of groundwater, drilling contractors, and private water wells is governed by the laws, regulations, and rules of each respective state. And the history of how and why each state developed their groundwater laws is a story in itself worthy of telling, but it’s too big of a story to be told here.

It’s clear to me now that no single legal concept or structure could possibly fit all states sufficiently to formulate one set of rules and regulations to manage all the activities surrounding groundwater. Through my conversations and by asking lots of questions during my year of travel, I found myself attempting to understand the manner in which each state I visited managed groundwater-related issues that can be broken into four general areas.

Those areas can be summed up in these questions:

  • Who owns and manages groundwater and the permitting of water wells?
  • What group leads the licensing of water well contractors, pump installers, and continuing education requirements and what are those requirements?
  • Who oversees water quality sampling, testing, reporting, and ownership of well logs and water quality data?
  • What are the state and local regulations surrounding the sale of real estate served by private water wells?

Toward my goal of having a better understanding of how each state accomplishes these tasks, I began collecting data from each state and territory I visited. I began gathering handout documents, website links, PDF files, and making contacts in as many states as I could to build an all-encompassing database to be shared with others.

Groundwater management and sustainability is important in every state, so I think the pooling of each state’s ideas of how they attempt to do it could benefit everyone. My visualization of the database is broader than any that I know of, as I could see it ranging from a basic water law concept in each state down to their extent of protection of the health, safety, and welfare of private well owners before, during, and after they get their drinking water from a well.

Public water supplies in all states are strictly regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency although sometimes they are also regulated by state and local agencies. In many states, though, it is quite the opposite regarding private water wells.

I found out only a few states have rules and regulations that protect homeowners when they purchase a home served by a private water well. Private water well drilling and pump installation is the backbone of our industry. Water well contractors rely on serving this market for their livelihood. Yet while we covet this business and provide homeowners with the best product possible, they actually receive little warranty that the quantity or quality of their water source will remain as it was the day they first tasted it.

I see a vast difference between the warranties homeowners get in platted subdivisions on public water systems and what homeowners on private water wells receive even if they are next door neighbors. How similar or how different their warranties are depends on the laws and regulations each state has developed for groundwater management from top to bottom.

Some states require water well contractors and pump installers provide a water quality test result proving the absence of coliform bacteria in the new well while many others do not. Some states allow the counties to prescribe what level of testing is required. Some states add proof that additional elements or compounds like nitrite, nitrates, arsenic, etc. are not present in either a new domestic well or during the sale of a home served by a private water well.

The states that require a seller provide both performance and water quality standards to buyers of homes served by private water wells try to protect a buyer. But none of the private well owners get the same level of protection that homeowners get on public water systems.

These are just a few examples of the many things I learned as I traveled around the country, and there are many more things to be learned as a continuing education student in 2020.

Because I taught one class on at least 20 occasions last year and because I learned 10 times what I taught each time, I feel I am now 200 times better informed because of my tenure as the McEllhiney Lecturer!

I only wish more people in our industry could get the same benefits I did traveling from state to state and learning how different they can be.

If I can somehow complete the creation of my database with answers from all 50 states for the four questions I listed earlier, I might just be able to make that task easier for others.

Please reach out to me at my email address if you think you can help.


Gary L. Hix, RG, CWD/PI, is past president of the Arizona Water Well Association and a former licensed water well contractor in Arizona. He has authored many articles on subjects related to well drilling issues for Water Well Journal and served as the 2019 McEllhiney Lecturer. He can be reached at gary.hix@cox.net.