Water Well Journal Q&A

Marvin Glotfelty, RG, author of The Art of Water Wells

Long-time industry professional discusses his new book covering the design of well systems.

By Thad Plumley

Marvin Glotfelty, RG, has been instructing groundwater professionals all around the world how to design water well systems for more than 30 years.

Marvin Glotfelty, RG. Photo by Carol Hagen.

Now much of that information—and then some—is part of his new book, The Art of Water Wells, published by NGWA Press.

The book provides a comprehensive overview of well systems—everything from site selection to design, drilling methods, economics, and more. At more than 170 pages and numerous drawings, photos, tables, and appendices, it is designed to be a valuable resource to anyone working in the groundwater field—well designers, contractors, engineers, water managers, and hydrogeologists.

Glotfelty, a principal hydrogeologist and cofounder of groundwater consulting firm Clear Creek Associates LLC in Scottsdale, Arizona, has the ideal background to author such a book. He is a registered professional geologist in Arizona and California and a licensed well driller in Arizona. He has been involved in the design, installation, rehabilitation, and abandonment of more than 900 water wells in the southwestern
United States.

The NGWA Distinguished McEllhiney Lecturer in 2012 took a few minutes recently to sit down with Water Well Journal and discuss The Art of Water Wells.

Water Well Journal: What are you hoping those working in the groundwater industry take away from your book?
Marvin Glotfelty: My hope is for this book to effectively provide practical information to the broad range of people involved with the design of water wells. Much of the contents of this book are not available in other publications, and I focused on making the information understandable, technically accurate, and applicable to real-world situations.

The descriptions and clarifications, including more than 80 illustrations, of well design and construction attributes will prepare the reader for the complicated and important work of well installation—regardless of whether that reader is a well contractor, hydrogeologist, engineer, student, homeowner, or any other interested person.

In the introduction of the book, I point out that some of my examples and discussions are focused on large-scale wells in Arizona, but the principles and techniques described in The Art of Water Wells are also applicable to smaller wells and to most geologic environments. I think this book will be a useful reference for anyone interested in water well design and installation.

WWJ: Is the book something you have wanted to write for years? What made you decide it was a project you wanted to tackle?
Marvin: I’ve been lecturing on the topic of groundwater and wells for the National Ground Water Association and other professional organizations for more than 30 years, so during those past decades I’ve often considered rolling that information into a printed book. I finally began the actual process of writing The Art of Water Wells in 2017, and it turned out to be much more difficult and also much more enjoyable than I expected.

WWJ: As Chapter 2 covers water well design, what are the principles of philosophy and process that are most needed for today’s contractor?
Marvin: Most drilling contractors are knowledgeable and conscientious and make a diligent effort to design and install good quality wells. However, they are sometimes limited by their technical background, and sometimes are enticed by competition and economics to embrace a low-bid mentality that results in well designs or installation techniques that focus only on minimizing the initial construction cost.

You can purchase The Art of Water Wells in the NGWA Bookstore or by calling NGWA Customer Service at (800) 551-7379.

Such compromises may provide short-term cost savings or simpler working conditions, but at the expense of the long-term quality of the completed well. So some of the most important items in Chapter 2 are the discussions of technical realities and rationale as to why better well design and installation techniques are truly worthwhile.

WWJ: Well development is explained in Chapter 4 under well installation oversight. What can readers learn on this important topic that is commonly overlooked?
Marvin: Previously published groundwater literature provides a lot of discussion about impediments to groundwater flow (head loss) due to constrictions in the well screen openings or filter pack sand. Those head losses are real, but the primary impediment to groundwater flow is the wall cake along the face of the borehole.

The wall cake provides a much greater obstacle to groundwater production—by orders of magnitude—compared to the relatively miniscule flow disruptions from the well screen or filter pack. Therefore, a commonly overlooked topic on well development is the well’s ability to convey energy through the screen and filter pack to the face of the borehole, where the wall cake can be broken down and removed during the development process.

WWJ: The last chapter of the book includes a section on the life-cycle economic analysis of water wells, the topic that you presented on as the Groundwater Foundation’s 2012 McEllhiney Lecturer. What new information on this topic do you share in the book?
Marvin: My 2012 McEllhiney Lecture titled “Life-Cycle Economic Analysis of Water Wells” was based on a lot of data collected in the Phoenix, Arizona area up to about 2011. In the years since that time, the costs of steel, fuel, labor, etc. have increased, but the guiding economic and technical principles that determine the life-cycle cost of installing and operating a water well have remained unchanged.

Savings in operational costs and improved longevity of water wells are analyzed in Chapter 5 of the book, but these savings and improvements in longevity are simply a reflection of the best practices that are described in all the other chapters.

One area of new information is presented near the end of Chapter 2 (Water Well Design), where the book provides a real-life example of the importance of designing every well with consideration of instantaneous events (the current moment in time) while the well is being constructed, and also with consideration for potential upcoming needs (distant future events) while the well is in operation throughout its useful life.

WWJ: The book contains a neat fold-out titled “Water Supply Well Installation Flow Chart.” Where did the idea for that come from? How do you hope it is utilized by readers?
Marvin: About 25 years ago, I was doing a well installation project for a water provider, and my client asked me to write down all the steps of water well design and installation so that he could keep track of “what would happen next.” At the time, I thought there must be five or six steps, so I sat down to write them out as a flow chart. As I added each step in the process, I was reminded of related items and alternate pathways that are shown in the flow chart.

The original version of the flow chart was a big mess of taped-together sheets of paper with arrows going all over the place and around the pack of the pages! That original version has been cleaned up to result in a flow chart that serves two purposes: it provides a generalized sequence of the required steps for water well design and installation, and it is a useful tool to show uninformed managers or decision-makers that well installation is a much more complex process than they may have thought.

WWJ: You still give presentations or lead workshops around the country. What is the most common thing water well professionals are saying or asking you right now?
Marvin: I typically give three to five workshops per year, ranging from an hour to multiple days. The audience backgrounds are varied, and the presentations are in almost all geographic areas across the nation and other countries. A consistent thing that transcends all the workshops and presentations is contractor interest in obtaining training for their employees. Economic times are good in the water well industry—in my area, anyway—so drillers have the opportunity to grow and improve their business with new equipment or expanded service areas.

However, finding and hiring well-trained personnel has proven difficult and has created a bottleneck to growth of our industry. I commonly hear this stated by drillers and other groundwater professionals as being one of the greatest challenges that we currently face in the groundwater industry.

WWJ: Now that the book is finished and on shelves, do you have any other ideas you’re mulling over for a follow-up?
Marvin: Writing The Art of Water Wells was a labor of love and I enjoyed every minute of the hard work involved with it. The book does not include everything, however, so I may someday write a follow-up book to address such things as the evaluation of existing water wells and various approaches for well rehabilitation (cleaning or structural modification). This is an intriguing topic because it calls for consideration of historic techniques and materials that are no longer in use (e.g., stovepipe casing), as well as leading-edge techniques for well evaluation (e.g., remote eddy logs or flow profile surveys).


Thad Plumley is the editor of WWJ and director of information products at the National Ground Water Association. He can be reached at tplumley@ngwa.org and on Twitter @WaterWellJournl.