Preventative Maintenance

It’s important to let customers know the long-term benefits of servicing their well system.

By William Wagner

Well maintenance service being conducted on a water system.

Contractors like to trot out any number of analogies when describing preventative well maintenance to customers, with comparisons ranging from dental hygiene to a car’s regularly scheduled oil change.

Regardless of the phrasing, the goal is always the same: To help customers understand the importance of keeping their wells in tiptop shape.

“Like our teeth, our vehicle, or our house, if we don’t maintain our water wells, we could be asking for trouble,” says Kevin McGinnis of Cotey Chemical Corp. in Lubbock, Texas. “Anyone who has had to have an engine overhauled or replaced or had to buy a new vehicle will agree proper maintenance always pays off.

“Or if you’ve ever talked with someone who’s had to have a root canal or a tooth extracted, it’s easy to see how everyday brushing takes on a whole new meaning. So although it’s often inconvenient, we do maintenance with the belief that if we don’t, something worse will happen.”

“Worse” used to be the norm, according to Neil Mansuy of Subsurface Technologies Inc. in Rock Tavern, New York. “When it comes to water wells, we have historically operated wells to failure before we will do something,” says Mansuy, a 35-year veteran in the industry.

Now, however, it makes no economic sense for well owners to operate their well system to failure. Given how the cost of producing a new well has increased over the years, regular maintenance is a much more marketable route. The numbers indicate as much: Mansuy says that when he started in the business, the national average for the life expectancy of a well was 25 years; today that average is 50-plus years.

“There always has to be an economic advantage (to motivate someone) to do something,” Mansuy says. “If the lowest cost of operation was to run a well to failure, that’s what we as professionals would be recommending. But we generally know that’s not the case. (The emphasis is on) extending the life expectancies of the wells.

“Some well owners still sometimes look at the maintenance of a well as a pure expense without keeping in mind the advantage of spending that amount of money (upfront). You can have an economic payback in a very short period of time by spending money on cleaning and maintaining.”

Indeed, it has gotten much easier for contractors to tout the economic advantages of preventative well maintenance to customers. In fact, it’s why regular maintenance should be a part of a sales pitch to every prospective customer.

“It’s much less expensive to maintain a well by adding chemicals on a regular basis than to shut down the well, pull the pump, and spend two or more days chemically and mechanically rehabilitating,” McGinnis says. “For many well owners, the time it takes to shut down a well for comprehensive rehabilitation, while necessary, is very difficult to schedule.”

 

Catching Things Early

The trick is to diagnose potential well issues before they get out of hand. Some of the maintenance steps McGinnis recommends include:

  • Testing a water sample for water chemistry problems
  • A video inspection of the well
  • Removing the pump and then examining the pump/pipe deposits in a lab.

But not all answers—or even some of the best answers—come in a lab setting or from video sleuthing. A contractor’s personal experience is another key factor. For example, the schedule for regular maintenance can vary from wellfield to wellfield and region to region. In many cases, a maintenance schedule will be based on the contractor’s knowledge of the area.

“The thing that I primarily use is experience in a well and a wellfield to suggest how often we should be undertaking a rehabilitation program or a preventative maintenance program,” says Mansuy. “We’re not drilling wells in areas where wells haven’t been drilled before, so we generally have enough experience in areas (where wells have been drilled) to know how frequently rehab cycles are done.”

As a general rule, Mansuy promotes annual cleanings. He believes the biggest mistake contractors can make is to rely on what he calls “feedback monitoring” rather than a time-based approach for formulating maintenance schedules.

“Historically, we have relied on feedback monitoring to trigger when we undertake (maintenance),” he says. “We have essentially used indicators for when we should be performing some type of preventative maintenance. Our reliance on monitoring specific capacity on a well has led us astray because we historically wait until the well is losing 15 to 20 percent of capacity to do work.

“We don’t pick these things up early enough. You can have a lot of deposits building up in well environments before they start impacting any type of capacity. So (with monitoring), you end up having significant deposits and plugging before we’re forced to undertake a cleaning. The deposits become much more mineralized and harder to remove by that point. Don’t think because you’ve lost only 10 percent of your specific pumping capacity that you only have 10 percent plugging of your well. It can be more significant.

Sometimes water pathways are so severely blocked even well maintenance can’t help. At that point, drilling a new well is the remedy, which is more expensive for the well owner and time-consuming for all parties involved.

These images show before and after cleaning on wire wrap well screens. The wells were cleaned with carbon dioxide via the Aqua Freed® process. The images show the goal of well maintenance: Keeping the water well environment clean on a time-based basis. Photos courtesy Neil Mansuy.

“The direction the industry is moving, and something I’ve been talking about for some years now, is the importance of time-based approaches,” Mansuy says. “If we don’t establish time-based approaches for preventative maintenance, we miss the opportunity to remove the deposit material when it’s soft and slimy. If we are able to remove the material when it’s soft and slimy, it never builds up to that hard, scaly composition.”

Choose the Right Cleaning Procedure

Mansuy says the industry is also trending away from leaning heavily on chemicals for preventative maintenance. His company employs mostly non-chemical cleaning procedures.

“We use primarily carbon dioxide for preventative maintenance programs,” he says. “We do add some chemistry to that, depending on the variables, but if you’re looking at the purely chemical approach, one of the limitations is you don’t get the distribution of chemical energy as effectively over the entire length of a well screen. So you don’t get as good of a cleaning. But a chemical-maintenance program is still better than doing nothing.”

For those contractors who do take a route based primarily on chemicals, there are many options.

“Choosing a product for maintenance will take a little more homework,” says McGinnis. “Examine what various companies have to offer and contact them for information and advice. It’s usually best to find a product that is specifically designed for well maintenance. And make sure it is ANSI/NSF Standard 60 approved. Last, ask other professionals who know the business and get their advice. Usually all of our heads are better than one of our heads.”

Regardless of what technique is used, the significance of preventative maintenance can’t be overstated.

“In the groundwater industry, we have turned the corner (on views toward preventative maintenance),” Mansuy says. “I routinely speak about things (related to well cleaning) and recommend preventative maintenance programs. And many professionals in the industry now routinely promote preventative maintenance.”

DACUM Codes
To help meet your professional needs, this article covers skills and competencies found in DACUM charts for drillers, pump installers, and geothermal contractors. DO refers to the drilling chart and GO represents the geothermal chart. The letter and number immediately following is the skill on the chart covered by the article. This article covers: DOJ-8, GOH-8. More information on DACUM and the charts are available here.

William Wagner is an award-wining writer, editor, and project manager for Wagner Communications. He has written for magazines, newspapers, books, and websites. He lives in the Chicago area and can be reached at william.wagner7@gmail.com.