Regulators Need Input from Water Well Drillers
In my last several columns, I promised to write next time about iron in water and its control and removal. It seems there is almost always a subject or subjects that come up that I want to write about, so, no, readers, you will not read about iron in groundwater in this column. I will someday get to that subject.
If you have read many of these columns, you know that water wells and pumps in Michigan are regulated by our Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Several years ago, the DEQ asked industry members to participate in what is called the Director’s Water Well Advisory Committee. This committee consists of several DEQ staff and several industry members — mostly contractors, but also a supplier, a representative of local health departments and a few people representing other governmental agencies like our Department of Agriculture.
I have been honored to be one of the industry representatives, and there are a total of seven contractors and one supplier in our group. We meet three to four times a year in Lansing, our state capital, and always at the DEQ headquarters or one of their satellite locations. This meeting is a bit difficult, in that parking in downtown Lansing is at a premium and there are no places that I know of to get lunch anywhere near the meeting building. We industry members attend at our own expense, which includes some fuel burned, paying for parking and, of course, lunch if we choose to eat it. The upside is that these meetings keep communications open between our industry and the folks who regulate it. I, for one, am glad to attend and the slight expense is of little consequence. One industry representative is from our upper peninsula and he almost always calls in — not that I blame him. To drive there would be close to 1,000 miles round trip for a three-hour meeting.
Some of these meetings leave me with a feeling that we did not accomplish much — or maybe I should say the feeling that we should have accomplished more. Recently, though, we had a very good meeting and discussed some important topics that I will expound on.
At this Nov. 29 meeting, we were given a printout of well code violations for fiscal year 2018. The DEQ reported that 657 violations occurred. Considering the number of wells drilled in Michigan, this is a pretty small number, but in my opinion, even one violation, if not corrected, is too many. Categories of violations included well records, sampling taps, well plugging, other code violations including the electrical code, improper isolation distances and an “other” category, which includes flowing wells, well caps, grouting and some other no-nos. The smallest category of violations, just 3 percent of the total, was well plugging. Wells that are no longer in use are required to be plugged and not just capped, as is probably the case in almost every state. The mind-boggling leader in violations, at 68 percent, was well record violations. The majority of these were for late filing. I know this has been an ongoing issue ever since well drillers in Michigan were regulated starting in the mid-1960s. For the life of me, I don’t understand why contractors keep violating this rule, especially since a well record can be filed directly from a computer with no printing, paper or trips to the post office.
Another part of our discussion was per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Readers, I can assure you the PFAS issue is not going away. In fact, it is going to get more intense as more contaminated areas are found. As I wrote in last month’s column, based on what I learned about PFAS at another seminar, this contaminate can be rather effectively removed with proper filtration. However, this filtration is quite expensive. Much to the chagrin of the contractors at this Nov. 29 meeting, the DEQ’s answer to PFAS contamination of individual wells is to hook up to a water main. One of the leaders on the DEQ side stated that individual filters, which I take to mean a filter for each household, will not be DEQ policy. This person indicated that individual filters are “not reliable” and can be messed with. At least one member from the contractor side of the group disputed this, but I think the DEQ has drawn a line on the ground and is digging in on this issue.
Yesterday, I spoke with a person who is well connected in Lansing and who is not a government employee nor a member of the industry. This person does have a good basic knowledge of groundwater and, more importantly, how government works. He said that the reason the DEQ will not allow individual filters is that they can indeed be “messed with” or, in layman’s terms, bypassed. He also pointed out that almost every filter needs to be serviced from time to time, and if the service interval is not followed, the filter becomes useless. This person has a major point, which I must agree with. He suggested that what is needed is a fail-safe filter.
He suggested that our industry should develop a filter that will shut down when the effective life of the filter bed has been met. This would not be unlike the DEF control devices in modern diesel trucks (I have a diesel truck, but it is pre-DEF, so I can only go on what I have been told). I’ve heard that if you have a DEF system on your truck, and this fluid tank approaches empty, the truck will slow down to 10 or 15 mph for a few miles and then the engine will stop dead. I gather you must then fill the tank or at least add some diesel exhaust fluid to it, and away you go with the truck running again. What my friend is suggesting for a PFAS filter makes a lot of sense. I don’t know if our industry has something like that or is even working on it. If a fail-safe filter could be made available, the wells it would save would be the ones we drill.
I write this column a week before Christmas and you will be reading it in early 2019. As I look out my window from my office, I see not a single flake of snow and it is about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. We in southern Michigan have had a couple of light snowstorms, but it melted and everything is kind of muddy. If you get a chance to work with the regulators in your state, by all means, do it. It can seem frustrating at times, but overall, it is very worthwhile. Remember that communication can solve a lot of problems before they get big and nasty.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/schmitt.