Water Well Journal Q&A

Published On: March 19, 2024By Categories: Business Management, Features, Groundwater Quality

The director of special programs at A. O. Smith Water Treatment discusses how water well contractors can excel.

By Mike Price

Richard Mest, director of special programs at A. O. Smith Water Treatment, fielded many questions during his Groundwater Week 2023 workshop, “Emerging Contaminants in Drinking Water and Effective Treatment Technology Tools.”

An update on the ever-evolving water treatment market was provided by Mest, an industry veteran who is a past president of the Water Quality Association (WQA) and the Water Systems Council and has received numerous WQA awards, including the Lifetime Member Award.

Mest answered these questions during his workshop:

  • Water treatment opportunities and how to best manage them?
  • Product certification and what to look for in choosing water treatment tools and supplier partners?
  • Will the disposal of exhausted water treatment media and/or membranes be an issue?
  • What does an effective maintenance program look like and how to manage it?
  • How do I create a viable lead generation program when ANSI third-party certified products are approved for contaminant MCL reduction?

“It’s an amazing time to be a contractor in the water treatment market,” says Mest who is based in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

Water Well Journal checks in with Mest to learn more about how water well contractors can excel in the water treatment market.

Water Well Journal: For contractors considering adding water treatment to their offerings, what are the first steps they should take?
Richard Mest: Develop a plan that maintains the integrity of your company brand. Providing quality water at the right place, at the right time, and at the right flow is life changing for your customers.

Water treatment should elevate your company and your valued customer experiences. Define your goals and identify what “success” looks like and the timeline to achieve it. You can easily enter slowly if that best suits your plan, especially if your business already includes the installation and maintenance of water well systems.

Choose the best vendor partner. They’ll provide a framework for developing your business, along with amazing products, services, and continued product research.

Understand the resources required for success: vendor partner, people, product, tools, financial resources, water treatment technologies, customer account nurturing, providing continued outreach, expertise, continued development, applicable licensing, and liability protection.

WWJ: What is a reasonable timeframe for a contractor’s return on investment in offering water treatment to customers and how long before positive revenue generation occurs?
Mest: Launching a successful water treatment sector within your current business requires a fraction of capital as compared to water well drilling. The effort is best compared to when you add water well system installation and maintenance to your well drilling business. The return on investment will be fast, typically within a year or two.

Providing quality water at the right place, at the right time, and at the right flow is life changing for your customers.

WWJ: With the treatment technology landscape continually expanding, what does a solid water treatment toolkit look like for contractors?
Mest: Certification: professional, including continued education. Products need to be certified to their efficacy of the contaminants treated.

Water testing: Having water testing capability in-house is a must. Align with a certified lab when health-related contaminants are being addressed.

Application: Understand the water source and its nuances and measure flow and pressure. Know what your customer wants to achieve in water quality and performance. Always balance water source, customer water demand, and water treatment system regeneration requirements.

Installation: Vendor product education to understand product nuances of installation and maintenance. Know and follow any local codes, including permits. When a product requires a drain line, always ensure there is no direct connection between drinking water and waste.

Even when the installation becomes more challenging to achieve, there is no option here; do it right. This might sound silly, but make sure the water treatment products fit in the application space available. Where are my electrical, plumbing, and drain accesses for the water treatment devices?

Water treatment product offering: Align water treatment products to the contaminants you encounter. Make water and chemical conservation critical components of product selection for each application. POU (point of use) and POE (point of entry) water treatment products provide a total solution for drinking water and an entire home or building.

WWJ: How has UV equipment changed over recent years and what should contractors know about pretreatment, sizing, and installation?
Mest: Mercury vapor lamps, producing a 254 NM wavelength of light energy, continue to drive the technology. It’s tried and true. UV vessels are predominantly constructed of high-grade stainless steel, some being electropolished. Power supplies continue to advance, not only providing energy to the UV lamps but also including maintenance alarms, messaging, and external signals. Specific signatures of UV lamps are becoming more popular. It creates a signature so only one type of lamp works.

What to know? UV technology disinfects microbes by disrupting their regeneration capability, destroying their ability to survive. The UV intensity of the system is critical: UV power matters. Microbes are impacted differently, requiring more or less UV intensity. Understanding this for each microbe of concern is critical for success.

UV 254 NM light energy must penetrate through the water in the UV vessel to reach the microbes, so water clarity and contaminant quality is of utmost importance. Microbes are very small organisms and can easily hide from the UV light energy.

Accomplishing microbial disinfection requires time, so restricting the gallons per minute (GPM) flow on each application is a must.

  • Always include a flow control, designated to the GPM flow capability of the UV system, with each installation.
  • Install the UV system so it’s easy to remove the UV lamp and UV quartz. Know the length of each so you provide adequate clearance for removal.
  • Replacing a UV lamp annually and cleaning the UV quartz are the keys to continued success.

WWJ: PFAS is the most talked about emerging contaminant today. What should contractors know about treatment options for a water well system?
Mest: Like all emerging contaminants, you need to be at the top of your game. You’re dealing with potential health concerns for your customer.

First, understand that abandoning the water well system is the last option.

You have a very high probability of success treating the water. Depending on the extent of the PFAS contamination, changing water sources might be a required option, but exhaust all other options before heading in that direction.

Identify the PFAS class of chemicals present in the water supply. Align with a certified water testing lab and follow their testing protocols. PFAS is tested in PPT (parts per trillion), so unintended consequences can easily occur through the sampling process, skewing the results.

Partner with a water treatment product supplier that understands PFAS:

  • Use ANSI third-party certified products.
  • Understand the application and the requirements for POU and POE water treatment solutions.
  • Assure your supplier has rigor in their testing and product support.
  • PFAS treatment remains fluid, requiring continued diligence in you and your supplier.

Follow all pertinent codes and regulations:

  • Understand if using a water treatment technology requiring regeneration is viable in the application’s geographic jurisdiction.
  • Are there restrictions with disposal of exhausted media or membranes?
  • Is there a mandatory maintenance schedule for media or membrane replacement or do you get to choose the frequency?

WWJ: What is the protocol you recommend contractors follow when treating PFAS so as not to contaminate themselves or their equipment?
Mest: Let’s be clear; we’re treating a very dilute solution of PFAS, not the concentrate. Supplier relationships are critical here.

Reach out to them to verify if PFAS is an ingredient in any of the materials you use in your business. When treating for PFAS, ask them for assistance regarding water treatment product application efficacy and maintenance requirements. Understand all codes and regulations pertinent to the area of water treatment application. Reach out to your departments of health and environment to keep abreast of codes and regulation. Work with your water industry aligned associations for help.

Follow any OSHA guidelines that pertain to PFAS and its class of chemicals. Be smart and wear protective clothing and gear. You’re accustomed to this already as a groundwater professional.

WWJ: While PFAS is certainly the most talked about, are you hearing about a new contaminant that seems to be emerging?
Mest: Microplastics, chromium, and pharmaceuticals.

WWJ: Which water treatment trends will you be following in 2024?

  • Product certifications and their advancements.
  • Technology enhancements with a sensitivity to carbon footprint and the environment.
  • Regulations and how we continue to strategically partner as a voice of reason and knowledge.
  • The continued journey of emerging contaminants.
  • The evolution of our products and professionals as tools for small public water systems achieving MCL compliance.
  • Professional certification and its role in advancing our industry lens.
More on PFAS
NGWA has long been an industry leader in providing PFAS research, education, and resources to the public and scientific communities. Click here to visit NGWA’s webpage, which is a complete resource center about the groundwater contaminants featuring a recently updated top-10 facts sheet, a position paper, white paper, and more.

Also found there is “PFAS and Private Well Owners: What You Need to Know,” a two-page fact sheet that groundwater professionals can distribute to customers and others in their community concerned about PFAS.

Mike Price is the senior editor of Water Well Journal. In addition to his WWJ responsibilities, Price contributes to the Association’s scientific publications. He can be reached at mprice@ngwa.org, or at (800) 551-7379, ext. 1541.

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