There were other big stories, but COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic dominated the headlines in 2020.
By Thad Plumley
No one was spared by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Regardless of where you live, what you do for a living, and even what industry you work in, thepandemic impacted your life.
The impacts ranged from the minor, think Zoom video meetings and facemasks, to the major, such as the devasting losses of a business, friend, or even family member.
That’s why as Water Well Journal looks back on 2020, the pandemic dominates the most important articles and images of the year.
Serving Your Customers
Providing water is essential, so the groundwater industry did what it has done for generations when the pandemic erupted—adapted on the fly and kept on going.
Workflows changed. Suppliers began offering curbside pickup. Contractor crews began working staggered shifts. Vehicles went back to the office after a job for complete sanitation of tools and equipment. Customer signatures were not required at the end of jobs.
And, most importantly, the water continued to flow.
“The industry adapted pretty well,” Jeffrey Williams, MGWC, CVCLD, vice president of Spafford & Sons Water Wells in Jericho, Vermont, told WWJ for a May 2020 article titled “COVID-19 and Groundwater.”
“Emails updating us from NGWA, social media, and the COVID-19 discussion page (on Facebook) certainly have and will continue to give us a forum for the sharing of best practices. The industry is tough; we have to work smart, but we’ll get through this.”
WWJ first wrote about the COVID-19 coronavirus with a Safety Matters column in its April issue titled “What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus.” From there, coverage exploded.
Along with the feature article in May above, the Editor’s Note, People at Work column, and the departments First Up, Industry Newsline, The Log, and Now on WaterWellJournal.com all featured content relating to the at-the-time emerging pandemic.
Coverage continued with the June issue. “Groundwater, Wells, and Coronavirus” was a feature article authored by NGWA Director of Science William M. Alley, Ph.D., and NGWA Manager of Regulatory Affairs Chuck Job in which they explained COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking
water in private wells or public drinking water systems.
The article concluded by stating while questions have arisen, the pandemic was not a reason by itself for well owners to get home treatment systems or switch to bottled water.
The issue also contained an Editor’s Note detailing the emergence of in-home offices, a trend that continues to this day. This change has gone on to impact some contractors in a surprising way.
“With the lockdown we thought things may slow down but it’s been the opposite,” Scott Fowler, CWD/PI, president of Dahlman Pump & Well Drilling Inc. in Burlington, Washington, recently told WWJ. “We saw a lot of people wanting out of the big cities since they’ve learned they can work from home. People are now moving to the rural parts of our state.
“I’ve had conversations with drillers in surrounding states and they’re all busy too.”
That has made things good for some manufacturers and suppliers too.
“From our experience, the groundwater industry is one of those segments that didn’t experience many effects from COVID-19,” Mike Hale, the sales and marketing manager at Little Beaver/Lone Star Drills in Livingston, Texas, recently said to WWJ. “It appears that our industry has kept moving
forward at a normal pace.
“Undoubtedly, the companies in that segment have implemented additional safety precautions but have been able to, from our experience, maintain a fairly normal schedule.”
Living in a Virtual World
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic not only forced business meetings online—who had heard of Zoom before this year—but sent many events and conferences to the cyberworld as well.
In the early days of the coronavirus, two multi-state events, the New England Water Well Expo scheduled for March 13-14 in Marlborough, Massachusetts, and the Pacific Northwest Groundwater Expo on March 20-21 in Portland, Oregon, were cancelled.
However, as the year unfolded and the pandemic worsened, nearly every other event went safely online. This culminated with NGWA announcing its Groundwater Week 2020 would be a virtual-only event for the first time in Association history.
The event, which is December 8-11, was highlighted in the October and November issues of WWJ. Both issues highlighted educational offerings available for continuing education units, speakers, and exhibitors in the virtual exhibit hall.
“Groundwater professionals count on Groundwater Week every year for an opportunity to network within the industry, discover new products, and continue their education,” NGWA CEO Terry S. Morse, CAE, CIC, said at the time of the announcement. “Hosting Groundwater Week 2020 as a virtual event is the best way to ensure everyone can experience what Groundwater Week 2020 has to offer.”
More Trends Emerge
While the pandemic dominated the news, it wasn’t the only news. Throughout the year, WWJ highlighted new technology and emerging trends in the groundwater industry.
The July issue featured the article, “Well Swaging: An Alternative Approach to Water Well Lining,” which discussed a practice long used in the oilfield that can extend service life and cut down on maintenance costs.
“Green Is Efficient and Efficient Is Green” in August discussed advancements in the groundwater industry that are providing everything from being environmentally friendly to saving money.
Highlighted were pump hoist rigs that feature remote controls that run off electricity, a smaller-sized drilling rig to reduce its footprint, and solar variable frequency drives that allow the installation of solar-utilizing traditional AC pumps.
The May issue highlighted a host of cutting-edge technologies. “Innovations in Irrigation” told the story of the Irrigation Innovation Consortium, a group spearheading several advancements in the irrigation market, and three of its current projects.
“Next Gen’s Drilling Rig” in February focused on recent technological advancements by Versa-Drill/Laibe Corp. in its new V-12 water well and geothermal drilling rig. The company’s most compact drill rig to date features a simplified operator’s panel with electronic controls in place of hydraulic controls. A goal for the easy-to-use controls is solving one of
the industry’s most challenging and pressing issues—recruiting the next generation of workers.
“The more advancements you put in your drill rig, one, you make more money; but two, it’s easier to train people,” Versa- Drill/Laibe Engineering Manager Stephen Gessner said in the article. “It gives customers the ability to hire more people.”
Groundwater and Legislation
G roundwater remained a hot topic in Washington, D.C., as well as state houses around the country. It even made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Maui County v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, ruling in favor of the fund in a 6-3 decision.
The case, reported on in WWJ’s June issue, examined whether the U.S. Clean Water Act requires a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit when pollutants are conveyed from a point source to navigable waters by a nonpoint source. In this case, that nonpoint source was groundwater.
With the ruling, the high court said the Clean Water Act not only forbids direct discharges of pollutants but the “functional equivalent” as well.
PFAS remained a hot-button topic as well. WWJ’s Industry Newsline department provided readers details on the latest happenings on the groundwater contaminant in nearly every issue.
Among the highlights were NGWA and eight of the country’s leading drinking water organizations urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to move expeditiously as it evaluates drinking water standards for two per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS).
In a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the associations asked the EPA to employ a holistic regulatory approach that protects source water from PFAS contamination, addresses public health concerns, and ensures public confidence.
“At NGWA, we have always believed good regulations are based on sound science,” CEO Morse said at the time. “The implications of regulating these substances will be far-reaching, so it’s crucial they are crafted with input from the scientific community.”
Also covered by WWJ were the EPA announcing a final rule in July to reduce lead in plumbing materials used in public water systems, homes, schools, and other facilities and NGWA joining a coalition of more than 200 organizations in September to advocate for a suspension of the federal excise tax on new heavy-duty trucks and trailers.
The Modernize Truck Fleet Coalition is aiming to have a suspension of the federal excise tax included in COVID-19 stimulus legislation or potentially put forward as a separate piece of legislation.
“We simply can’t do our job of providing communities with safe and clean water without trucks,” said NGWA Government Affairs Committee Chairman Brian Snelten, PG. “We need a system that encourages purchasing new and safer vehicles that will help expand our small businesses. This tax does the opposite, and we feel it’s time for Congress to act.”
Heading into 2021
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic remains, influencing all that we do in our personal and professional lives.
There could be hardships as we head into the new year. Uncertainty regarding a recession, political gridlock, regulations hampering business, and the ever-growing need to find additions to the workforce.
All that being said, though, the groundwater industry will figure it out. It always does.
“I feel that the groundwater industry is made up of many dedicated and hardworking individuals who will rise to and face these many challenges on a daily basis,” Jeffrey A. Smith, MGWC, president of Smith Well Drilling Inc. in Valatie, New York, said in a WWJ Q&A in the August issue.
“We are a very resilient group and will persevere through this crisis as we have in previous times.”
Thad Plumley is the editor of WWJ and director of information products at the National Ground Water Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (800) 551-7379, ext. 1594.