Insects Finding Their Way Through Water Well Caps
If you are a regular reader of this column, you have probably noted that I have been writing about pitless adapters for some time. My records indicate I started writing on this subject over a year ago — I have taken some side trips to discuss safety, a departed friend from the industry and a drilling demonstration. I also note that I have written several “final” columns on pitless adapters. Well, readers, this column is about that same subject and I’m not going to call it a final one, as it may not be.
If you get the feeling that pitless adapters are a favorite subject of mine, you are correct. My personal opinion is that the use of the pitless adapter rather than well pits, the increased use of the rotary rig, the submersible pump and the captive air tank are the great advances our industry has made in the last 68 years, which is the time frame from when I started with my father as full time helper in his well and pump business until today.
If you have a good memory, you may remember that some columns back I wrote about pitless adapter caps. I recalled in that column how years ago we had a big problem with a bug called an earwig here in Michigan — these pesky critters would crawl through the then popular caps, which were rain proof but not sealed very tightly, and enter the well and the rest of the water system. I remember seeing for the first time earwig parts in a glass of water my customer had taken at her kitchen sink — she was not, as you might expect, a happy camper. Improved cap designs pretty much put an end to the earwig infestation, and I think these bugs seemed to multiply and years later disappear but I have no scientific basis for this. It is just my opinion.
Recently, a problem with these caps or the vent holes in them has arisen. Last week, as a member of the Directors Water Well Advisory Committee (DWWAC), I attended a meeting of the committee at the Department of Environmental Quality in Lansing, Mich., our state capitol. This committee consists of drillers throughout the state. I believe there are eight drillers who are members, along with several from our DEQ staff and a representative of local health departments. We were all appointed or selected by the director of the DEQ. We serve with no compensation either in salary or expense reimbursement — this is not a complaint on my part, and I have never heard a member say that attendance was a financial burden to them. We all serve to improve our industry and to help provide safe, clean water to the residents of Michigan who are supplied with well water. We discuss a variety of subjects, some of which are kind of surprising. I learned at this most recent meeting that NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) approved steel casing, which is widely used in our Upper Peninsula and other parts of the state, is no longer available in certain sizes because the last manufacturer has quit making it. If I have time and space, I will expound on this issue later in this column or perhaps next time.
In any event, one of the drillers present who comes from a successful drilling and pump operation started by his father, who is still very active in the business, and his mother, who runs the office, said that they are having a bug problem. It seems that in their area teeny, tiny ants sometimes called sugar ants — and also an indelicate other name — are getting right through the screens of popular brand well caps. He said that they have had instances where these critters showed up coming through the faucets in homes and businesses, much to the dismay of the people who use this water. He says that they have found evidence of ant eggs inside wells. This sounds like the earwig problem revisited.
The DWWAC members pretty much thought that a finer mesh screen on the well vent was the answer. You readers understand, of course, that any well needs to be vented. Every well ever drilled when pumped is going to have some draw down. It may be a very, very small amount, and it may be a very large amount. As water recedes in the casing due to this drawdown, if the upper portion of the casing is not vented a partial vacuum will be created inside the casing. This is a bad thing in that contaminants could be drawn into the casing if it has a weak point anywhere. So it is important that all casings be vented regardless of their size and the type of pump installed in them or to them.
The advisory committee discussed this at some length and pretty well agreed that a finer-mesh screen for the vent was the answer. I have made several attempts to contact the manufacturer of a very, very popular brand of pitless used in Michigan to try to determine what is the mesh of the screen they use in the vents of their products. I have been unsuccessful and can only say that the screens seem quite fine but, what I call quite fine might not seem that way to you. The local health department representative on the committee, who is an experience sanitarian, then wondered if making the screen too fine might restrict the intake of air into the casing, resulting in the dreaded partial vacuum. We bandied this question around for some time and, as I recall, did not make a recommendation.
You may be saying, “Go to a finer screen and increase its area.” This would indeed work, except in caps for 4-inch wells, which are still quite popular in Michigan. At least in older ones, there is not much room in the cap to increase the size of the vent. Others present voiced the opinion that these ants might be a localized problem. In my experience, localized problems have a way of quickly becoming “not localized.” I will do my best to keep you readers informed. Do we have this problem in other parts of the good old USA? I would be very interested in your comments.
You may be reading this at Groundwater Week, which used to be the Groundwater Expo, and before that it was the NWWA or NGWA Convention, in early December. In the last day or so, I am finalizing plans for my wife, Shirley, and I to make the trip out to Las Vegas. I went to 37 consecutive NWWA/NGWA Conventions in all sorts of different cities, but did not make it in 2013, 2014 or 2015. I frankly missed being at the show, especially seeing old friends. If you see me at the show, stop and say “hello,” and tell me what you think of my columns.
It is fall in Michigan, we have had a good amount of rain, the farmers are ahead of schedule in harvest, the colors are quite vivid and the deer have changed to their dark winter coats, making them easier to hit with a vehicle. As I write this, it is about 55 degrees Fahrenheit and has been raining all day — not a fun day to be on the back end of a drill rig or a pump hoist. Hope to see you all in Las Vegas.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/schmitt.