My McEllhiney Lecture Experience

Kevin McGillicuddy, PG, reflects on his 2022 tour as the McEllhiney Lecturer.

By Kevin McGillicuddy, PG

Kevin McGillicuddy, PG, kicked off his McEllhiney Lecture at Groundwater Week 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee, before giving the presentation throughout the country in 2022.

I first learned of my selection as the 2022 McEllhiney Distinguished Lecturer with a call from Kathy Butcher, CMP. Like many folks at the National Ground Water Association, I have known Kathy for many years, and it was both a pleasure and a humbling moment to receive the news from her.

Kathy, who retired last year as NGWA’s Director of Education, informed me to incorporate surface and groundwater interaction in my talk. I thought about how to best present this topic in a way that would be of interest to water well drilling contractors. The subject is a wide-ranging and complex one given the technical, legal, and political challenges associated with water supply in our current time.

The approach I decided to take was discussing surface and wastewater and how they can be used for groundwater replenishment through programs utilizing the practice of managed aquifer recharge (MAR).

The concept of managed aquifer recharge is not new, but I wanted to highlight the objectives of this practice and discuss why it has become a necessary tool for water supply management. Ultimately, it is important to recognize that our industry plays a vital role in the success of these programs.

We understand the hydrologic cycle is the primary mechanism for surface-groundwater interaction where precipitation falls over the land and percolates below the surface to become groundwater. Water becomes a vital resource when produced and sustains the agriculture, industry, and life of nearly every creature on this planet.

But when the cycle of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, percolation, and groundwater development is disrupted (i.e., drought), it is necessary to examine alternative methods for getting water into the ground. The concept of managed aquifer recharge was developed to provide a means of artificially replenishing aquifers with surface water and from sources other than precipitation falling from the sky.

Sharing Two Projects

As examples of current MAR programs, I elected to focus on two forward-thinking domestic municipal agencies that are actively engaged in managed aquifer recharge projects: one in the western United States with the Orange County Water District and one in the eastern portion of the country, the Hampton Roads Sanitation District.

OCWD is located in southern California and has been injecting highly treated wastewater into the coastal aquifer system since the 1970s. The injection program was initially designed to halt the inland progression of seawater by using an alignment of injection wells to form a pressure barrier.

The source water was secondary treated wastewater from the nearby Orange County Sanitation District. In the decades since, OCWD has added advanced treatment technology and expanded the treatment capacity under the program named the Groundwater Replenishment System.

Today, GWRS’ output capacity is 130 million gallons per day, making it the world’s largest wastewater reclamation facility. The product water is used to enhance the groundwater supply of Orange County’s groundwater basin through recharge basins and 76 injection wells (72 barrier wells and four mid-basin injection wells).

The Hampton Roads Sanitation District is located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and actively engaged in a water treatment and replenishment program designed to address both water supply and water quality-related issues.

Under its Sustainable Water Initiative For Tomorrow (SWIFT) program, the agency will enhance the coastal groundwater basins that have been impacted by seawater intrusion and improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay which has been degraded by chemical nutrients associated with surface runoff and wastewater plant discharges.

The HRSD is tackling these issues through a multi-year construction program that when finished is projected to include five regional wastewater treatment plants and 96 injection wells. The combined treatment plant output is expected to be 100 million gallons per day.

In discussing the goals and objectives of the GWRS and SWIFT programs, it was my desire to illustrate the important role water well drilling contractors of today and tomorrow will have in groundwater management programs throughout the country.

MAR programs such as these can be thoroughly planned, carefully designed, and competently engineered, but program objectives will not be met if the recharge wells are not properly constructed and appropriately maintained.

Furthermore, the long-term viability of these projects is dependent on the water quality and level data provided by the networks of monitoring wells that will assess the performance of these projects over their operating lifespans.

Thank You

The lecture tour took me through 11 states distributed in the Central, West, and Southeast portions of the country. At each lecture, I was aided by representatives of the state water well and groundwater associations.

The conference directors included Colette Lynch, Jade Slaymaker, Clint Tyler, Scott Hall, Kim Barclay, Mike Block, and Jennifer Alexander from the states of Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, Oregon, Colorado, South Carolina, Arizona, Indiana, and California. They were most helpful and treated me with the level of hospitality offered to one of their long-time members.

Additionally, I want to thank NGWA’s Kathy Butcher and Sue Tenney as well as NGWA Board of Directors member— and 2023 McEllhiney Lecturer—Fred Rothauge, CWD, who also assisted with logistics during the lecture tour.

I will always be grateful for the opportunity and support that The Groundwater Foundation provided me for this lecture. It was an experience I will always treasure.

Kevin McGillicuddy, PG, is a chief hydrogeologist for Roscoe Moss Co. in Los Angeles, California. He assists consultants, municipalities, water districts, and contracting firms in the planning and design of water supply wells. Prior to joining Roscoe Moss, McGillicuddy worked as director of recharge operations and as a senior hydrogeologist for the Orange County Water District.

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