I've gotten a little push back from readers before when I've brought up the concept of water scarcity and what drillers should do about it. But I was thinking about it again today after seeing this. It's a summary of changes in groundwater supplies over about 10 years ending in 2012 based on data captured from NASA's GRACE satellites.
Groundwater is a limited resource. It seems unlimited, because it keeps coming up when drillers drill. But ask rig runners and pump men in California. They've been going hundreds of feet deeper than they were just a few years ago. During the record drought there, groundwater plays an even more important role than usual to keep taps on, center pivots running and breweries brewing (we have to have priorities, after all).
Responsible Water Well Drilling
A driller's responsibility is to provide water. Full stop. But—and here's where it gets tricky—water well professionals are also stewards of a critical resource. I don't mean to suggest that drillers turn down jobs.
"I'm sorry, I can't drill any deeper for you. You've depleted the aquifer enough in your area."
That sounds ridiculous. And it is. But I think it's important that drillers and other groundwater professionals advocate for the resource.
So, what does that mean? It means supporting sensible regulations to protect groundwater for now and for years to come. It means supporting projects that make the best use of water. It means being part of discussions about water access and supply. And being part of those discussions means you're part of the solution.
For example, we have a story going in September's National Driller about an interesting project. A California water utility is installing a slant well that angles out under the ocean. It'll take in saltwater from under the ocean floor and pipe it to a desalinization plant. It's an innovative project that will provide work for drillers and, if done right, not further stress freshwater aquifers in that state.
Any driller knows that aquifers take time to recharge. I think we'll see more projects like this.
Will Aquifers Run Dry?
I'm not a hydrologist. I don't know if, particularly in drought-stressed states like California and Texas, drillers could effectively drill themselves out of work. But, if water levels keep dropping, it seems to me that eventually wells will get too expensive to drill for all but a few major customers. That'll mean a few drilling contractors with the proper equipment to do deep wells for a few clients who can afford those deep wells.
Like I said: I don't know. But I don't want to find out and I don't think the water well drilling industry does, either.
California drillers right now are busier than they can manage. I bet drillers in other areas of the country look on and think, "I wish I had some of that work." But that business is only as sustainable as the attitude drillers have toward the resource they drill for and everyone else enjoys.
Thoughts? Feedback? Rants? Send me a message. I want to hear what you think.
Stay safe out there, drillers.