Thinking Long Term

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We need to plan and execute well construction and maintenance projects in a manner befitting the importance of the resource.

By Michael J. Schnieders, PG, PH-GW

The projects we are called in on at times are more or less post-mortem exercises. The well is either close to or long-past the point of no return.

This is true for large municipal wells and residential wells alike. When reviewing what little history is often presented, the record is a series of poor decisions based on cost or just meeting basic standards and expectations.

When one looks back at the water well industry’s early primers on well construction such as the Water Well Handbook (1948) or the 1966 edition of Groundwater & Wells, there were common goals for what was classified as a “good well.” These goals included a well reasonably free from contamination, a 25-year lifespan, and of economical cost (“cheap”).

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Fast forward to today where we have a multitude of siting and testing requirements, a myriad of approved methods and materials, and a laundry list of safety codes, and one would expect we’d have mastered the perfect well by now, right? Wrong.

Groundwater remains an important resource, with some 2 billion people obtaining their drinking water supplies directly from drilled or hand‐dug wells (World Health Organization, 2012). It is estimated that a further 4 billion people have access to piped water or public water supply, a significant proportion of which is sourced from groundwater.

Yet despite all of this most of the wells are still constructed with two driving factors: cost and meeting minimum standards.

Importance of Materials

The selection of materials, monitoring of construction, time spent on development, and the method of disinfection are all important aspects of new well design and construction that are continually relegated to the cheapest and bare minimum of efforts. The result? Increased maintenance costs, degradation of water quality, increased production costs, and more than likely, a limited operational life.

In the western United States, population shifts in the late 1990s brought increased concern with the projected lifespan of new wells. The historical reality that wells were often run well past their design lifespan led many municipalities to begin to request longer projected lifespans, moving beyond the 25-year goal to 50- and 75-year operational lifespans. This brought about a whole new level of dynamics in well construction, well siting, and material selection never previously addressed.

Let’s take a look at material selection. Casing, screen, filter pack, pump column, pump, etc. all have the potential to interact or react with each other and with the source aquifer water chemistry.

Cheaper materials may result in the well owner requiring additional water treatment efforts for the water to be utilized for the intended purpose. Marvin Glotfelty’s 2012 McEllhiney Lecture showed our industry the proper selection of materials for new well construction could have substantial impacts for larger municipal wells. Glotfelty, RG, reported that in some regions, stainless steel screens could pay for themselves within six years by allowing more flexibility in installation, maintenance, and treatment of the well and produced water.

In addition to a longer lifespan, many municipal and industrial clients are now requesting higher degrees of efficiency and more assurances of produced water quality.

It’s an issue not limited to new wells. Well maintenance and disinfection often falls to a mindset of the bare minimum necessary to get the well back online. But during maintenance, we should ask ourselves do we know what the problem is and are we adequately addressing it? Are we limiting harmful impacts on the well, structure, and aquifer?

It is not uncommon to hear of a well having to be disinfected multiple times only to find out that the pump wasn’t pulled due to cost concerns. Without taking the time to pull the pump, how can we ensure that we’ve adequately addressed the problem? If we’ve only disinfected the well, how can we address heavier fouling concerns in the lower extension, problems that can significantly impact well health and usage of the well as a resource?

Education Is Key

I know the first response to these topics will be something like “But the customer isn’t willing to pay more for us to do it right.” I understand, but we are talking about water—which comprises 60% to 75% of the human body (U.S. Geological Survey) and that material a human can’t go three days without impacting health (Scientific American).

Our customer base has more information at its’ disposal than at any other time in human history. Through the National Ground Water Association, the U.S. Geological Survey, and many state and provincial organizations, there is sufficient information to guide customers and educate them why it matters to do things right.

Ask yourself: Am I assisting in that education? Or are you falling back into the age-old rut of low cost and bare-minimum standards?

We need to plan and execute well construction and maintenance projects in a manner befitting the importance of the resource. We need to accept that most wells completed today will be relied on for water far longer than expected. We must accept that land changes, recharge zones, aquifer integrity, and target water quality will change—and likely not for the better.

We must accept that as groundwater professionals it is our job to educate the customer and guide them to making the right decision, and that those decisions may not always be the cheapest or easiest.


Michael J. Schnieders, PG, PH-GWMichael J. Schnieders, PG, PH-GW, is a professional geologist currently serving as the principle hydrogeologist and president of Water Systems Engineering Inc. in Ottawa, Kansas. Schnieders’ primary work involves water resource investigation and management, specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of fouled well systems. Schnieders was the 2017 McEllhiney Distinguished Lecturer in Water Well Technology. He can be reached at mschnieders@h2osystems.com.

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