How does hydrogeology affect water well drilling?
Q. How did you get started in the industry?
|Many younger geologists focus on contamination issues and not as much on water supplies, according to Everett. Source: istock|
A. I got a master’s degree in geology, with a specialty in hydrogeology. The industry was quite a bit different in those days. Back in the ’70s, we studied surface water as it applied to mining and construction. There wasn’t much of a focus on environmental issues yet.
Right out of college, I went to work on a rig, and I started out doing the hard stuff. In those days, [the rigs] would hire operators right out of college with geology degrees. But today, most geology programs at the university level don’t give this kind of exposure to the drilling industry anymore. And I just don’t see the enthusiasm in young people today to stand out in the cold for 12 to 16 hours a day to learn how a rig really works. The hands-on experience really gives you a good understanding.
Over the years, I began to work on bigger projects related to water supply development and wastewater disposal. I’ve also worked on a long list of projects, a little bit of everything, including post-derailment clean-up of CSX train wrecks and Environmental Protection Agency efforts to abandon lagoons and switch over to shallow wells. Most of what I’ve done in recent years focused primarily on analyzing irrigation wells for municipal water supplies. And, of course, I worked on what I called “the dam project in Hell,” where we worked on a dam in Hell, Mich.
Q. What types of projects do you work on that may affect drillers?
A. The range of work I have done in the industry gives me a kind of experience and perspective that isn’t a common combination. A lot of the work we do can really benefit drillers, too. For example, Michigan has the new progressive water withdrawal guidelines. We are able to evaluate real hydrogeologic conditions, which affects drilling. We take site–specific data and apply it in a way to try to help get the site approved.
We also analyze data from aquifers, which can measure water levels and make drilling projects a lot easier to accomplish. By analyzing the data we collect, we can determine if the aquifer will produce the kind of water that drillers want. There’s nothing worse than starting a drilling project and having to abandon it when the water runs out.
Q. Is there a common misconception drillers have about hydrogeologists?
A. I would not say that there are common misconceptions, per se. Instead, I think that a lot of drillers don’t know enough about what we do and how we can help them to do their job better. Old school geologists like me learned about water supply issues and conservation, conserving our resources, that kind of thing. It seems like the younger geologists are more concerned about contamination and may not know as much about the water supply. There are a number of very sophisticated drillers out there who know a lot about the geology factor, but they may not know as much about what it takes to produce a good aquifer.
Some of us have a tremendous understanding of what goes into creating a good water supply. Younger geologists tend to think local — will there be enough water for this particular project? — not about what an aquifer can handle. We could really help them.
When we show up on a site with our little black trailer full of equipment, sometimes the drillers seem worried that we’ll find out they didn’t do their geophysical logs correctly. Sometimes they call us “black ops.” But I tell you what, most of them do a really great job. You almost never see them write much down but they always get the details right.
Q. What would you say to drillers who look at what you do and think, “This may work on paper, but it won’t work in the field?”
A. I think we can really work together, and that would start if they had a better understanding of what we do. You know, a lot of people can take data out of a computer, but we have a lot more knowledge than we used to, and a lot of that knowledge is really useful.
As an industry, we all have to learn a lot more to keep up with changing regulations. As we get more use out of our groundwater and face more environmental restrictions, we have to know how we can access water more efficiently. There’s a lot more science brought into it now than there used to be, which is how I think hydrogeologists can really benefit them. We can modify their well design and help them change it a little, to help them design a more efficient well.
At the same time, though, I really have to give credit to well drillers. They know more about the local geology than just about anybody else, even if they don’t have the textbook knowledge about the science behind it.
Q. With your years of experience in hydrogeology, is there anything that groundwater does that still surprises you?
A. The day that I don’t learn something new about groundwater flow will be the day I’m pushing grass up. It’s true that a lot of things don’t change about water. But it’s always a surprise how geology can change so rapidly even within the same region, and that affects what we do. You get another notch in your belt of, “boy, I haven’t seen that one before.”
I really like working with drillers, and I hope to have more opportunities to work with them on projects in the future. Drillers as a group are good, down-to-earth people who work hard and really invest a lot into their equipment.
About Edward Everett
Edward Everett is a certified professional geologist with Strata Environmental Services in central Michigan. The company offers a range of services, including water supply development and remediation. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.strataenvironmentalservices.com.