Ten things I wish the public knew: #2

Drilling day2Last week, I started my short series on the ten things I wish the public knew about our industry (Ten things #1) and covered the first three. Here’s this week’s list:

4. Groundwater expertise is different than plumbing expertise.

Not all groundwater contractors are plumbers, and not all plumbers are groundwater contractors. In fact, although some water well contractors and drillers provide plumbing services as part of their business, most of the time they don’t overlap. The groundwater industry requires a distinct knowledge base and skill set–and even different equipment. Think of it this way: someone who works on melting furnaces in foundries is not the same person who would on the furnace in your home, and vice versa. Some of the underlying science and mechanics might be similar, but these are really two different jobs requiring distinct expertise.

5. We work under tight regulatory constraints.

Groundwater is a precious resource and, appropriately, obtaining a license to access and drill into it is a formidable task. In addition, nearly all states require water well contractors to receive a certain number of hours of continuing education each year in order to maintain that license. Of course, given the size and complexity of a drilling rig, there’s a significant safety and driver training component as well. We don’t just punch holes in the ground; we have to be well-trained and ensure regulatory compliance.

6. The lowest priced water system may not be the best quality water system.

I’m a firm believer that you generally get what you pay for. Go to the internet or the Yellow Pages and you’ll probably find several options for water well contractors in any given area. Whether you’re installing a new system or simply need to get back in water, the lowest price isn’t always the best option. For example, one contractor may be offering an upgraded system that includes constant pressure, whereas another may be offering a conventional system. One may offer a tank sized to meet your needs today, but another may offer a tank sized to accommodate potential demand increases. Different prices may also be reflective of different warranty options or service agreements. In the long run, it pays to understand the difference.

Next week I’ll wrap up the series with 4 more Things I wish the public knew about our business. Stay tuned.

Ten things I wish the public knew: #1

In my job, I do a lot of airline travel. Although I’m generally a limited talker with whomever ends up next to me, I often get the question, “So, what business are you in?” From these and other random encounters with the general public, I’ve built up a sizable database of its perceptions of water wells and the groundwater industry.

Drinking_waterWhat follows isn’t a revelation by any means, but I’m continually amazed at how little the general public knows about groundwater and the groundwater industry. Even end-users such as homeowners and farmers who have their own private water systems generally have little knowledge of how water gets to their tap.

Given this, I’ve decided to write a short series around the ten things I wish the public knew about our industry. You’ll find the first three below, with the rest to follow in subsequent posts.

1. Chances are, your water comes from a well, even if you don’t know it.

I consistently hear: “I’m on city water; I don’t get my water from a well.” Actually, there’s a good chance you do. For example, I live in a good-sized city with several water sources, including a river and a couple of reservoirs. However, my city also has numerous large water wells, and a significant amount of our water is supplied from those wells. But ask any of my neighbors where their water comes from and they would never think that it comes from a well.

2. Groundwater is important. So important, in fact, that we literally can’t live without it.

The general public has no deep appreciation of groundwater’s importance, and therefore the importance of the groundwater industry. Only 2.5% of the world’s water is freshwater and of that, 69% of that is locked up as ice at earth’s poles. What’s left is surface water and groundwater. Between the two, surface water comprises only 0.4% and the rest of groundwater. That’s not nearly enough surface water to supply the needs to humankind. Not only does much of our clean, fresh drinking water come from the ground, we have to have it to survive as a civilization.

3. Groundwater contractors are experts with unique professional knowledge.

Not only do groundwater contractors have to be good business people, they also have to have very specialized technical expertise. Drilling contractors, for example, often maintain more than a million dollars worth of equipment, with more bells, whistles, levers, and buttons than most people can imagine. They have to understand geology and hydrology. Pump installers have to have an outstanding working knowledge of electricity and hydraulics, and more often than not, electronic technology as well. Not everyone can do this job.

Stay tuned for more Things I wish the public knew  next week.

Water Well Wednesday

Last week at the Kansas Groundwater Show in Hutchinson, Kansas, I met Bruce Reichmuth of Hydro Resources (formerly Henkle Drilling) out of Garden City, Kansas. Bruce is in a small and unique club in our industry: once a week, he goes on the air at KIUL Radio 1240 AM and talks about water wells, drilling, pumps, and just about anything else having to do with groundwater.

1240It all started a few years ago when Henkle Drilling changed their name to Hydro Resources. To make sure that their customers knew about the name change, Hydro bought a few spots on KIUL. That relationship lead to the host of Mid America in the Morning to ask Bruce to be a one-time guest on the show to talk “a little bit about water wells.”

Pretty soon it was once a week, and two years later, Bruce is still at it. Every Thursday morning around 9:40, Bruce is on the air at KIUL to talk about a groundwater topic. Topics range from seasonal considerations, drought conditions, how pumps work, simple trivia, drilling methods, and even constant pressure systems – anything that educates the audience about groundwater. Sometimes Bruce will bring a guest with him such as a fellow employee or even an unsuspecting pump salesman. On yesterday’s show, Bruce discussed the Kansas Groundwater Convention and shared some of the McEllhiney Lecture (underwritten by Franklin Electric).

Bruce says he keeps asking the station, “Are you sure you want to keep doing this? This is all very interesting to me, but are you sure it’s that interesting to your listeners?” The reply is always the same, “YES! What you’re talking about is critical to this area and our listeners want to hear and know more about it.”

It’s actually been interesting enough that Bruce’s expertise has generated another show on KBUF 1030 AM. That show is called “Water Well Wednesday” and airs live during the “Today in Agi Business” program by John Jenkinsen. This is the live broadcast from Hydro Resources’ offices once every other month.

Granted, Garden City, Kansas is a unique market area and Bruce’s radio segments wouldn’t garner the same amount of interest in Chicago or Atlanta. But it does show how important it is to provide the general public with expertise and knowledge on groundwater. Just a few minutes a week is going a long way in western Kansas.

The fab five

Even though 2013 is already well underway, I thought we would take one more “over the shoulder” glance back at Franklin in the Field in 2012. There were 51 new posts, and the blog received 6,300 visits from 84 countries. But what’s really interesting is go back and take a look at the five posts that got the most attention (clicks) in 2012.

Coming in at #5 was Every team has an MVP, where I highlighted Franklin Electric’s Charlie Utley on receiving our Most Valuable Player Award at Franklin Electric’s annual sales and training conference.

At #4, We’re not selling pumps was probably my personal favorite. It highlighted how our industry provides so much more than just pumps.

Number 3 was contributed by Franklin’s Tammy Davis. In The real reason she makes a great case for attending that next trade show.

Number 2, Credit where credit is due was posted way back in January and congratulated Keith Hall on his 43 years with Franklin Electric. By the way, Keith is still providing outstanding training at our monthly Franklin Tech sessions in Wilburton, Oklahoma.

Finally, coming in at #1 was 12 AWG, 12 gauge, and #12, a post about wire gauging nomenclature. No, I can’t explain why this one came in at #1 either, but it had 440 views. Apparently there’s a lot more interest in wire sizing that I realized.

There you have it. The five most clicked Franklin in the Field posts from 2012 out of our library of 86. I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings.

Auld lang syne

Thanks to Randy Woodland, a Franklin Field Service Engineer based in Colorado, for providing this post.

OldDrillingI participated in the installation of a new solar pumping system last month as part of Franklin Electric’s commitment to field test new products before they are commercially offered to customers. As with any trial installation, we had a few issues. The most annoying one involved the flow switch “talking” to the controller, but we were able to solve it without incident.

After everything was running well, the contractor commented, “I miss the old days, things were a lot simpler to install and troubleshoot when we didn’t have all of these new products to offer.” I immediately agreed with him; pump installations seemed a lot simpler twenty years ago. I’m not too proud to admit that at times I’ve even wished I didn’t need to constantly learn new things in order to do my job.

The more I thought it, however, I realized something. It doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. In order to stay in business, we have adapt to new products and new ways of doing things. It’s that simple.

Then I remembered a training seminar I attended at least ten years ago. The presenter said something that has stuck with me ever since. “The last buggy whip manufacturer in the United States probably made the best ones ever, at the lowest cost, with fast delivery and excellent customer service. So what? His market changed when automobiles replaced the horse and buggy. Being the best at something doesn’t matter if that something is no longer what the customer wants.”

We are no different in the water systems industry. VFDs take the place of large tanks and valves, electronic protection devices take the place of fuses and heaters, a web page takes the place of an ad in the Yellow Pages, and so it goes.

That guy was absolutely right. It really doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. If the customer asks for it, we have to provide it. In today’s age of readily available information about any product or process, the consumer will find out what is available. If your company or mine continues to sell and service buggy whips, our business will suffer for it.

What any industry wants to sell doesn’t matter if the customer wants to buy something else. If you don’t offer it, your competition will. Don’t forget that today will be someone else’s good old days.

Suddenly learning new things doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

All I want for Christmas

Lots of publications have their annual issues of holiday gift ideas or recommended products each year. Here is ours, albeit perhaps not quite as exciting as some of those – It’s our list of recommended professional meters for water systems troubleshooting.

There are five on the list. There are lots of other good meters out there, but here’s what Franklin Electric’s team of Field Service Engineers use on a day-to-day basis:

  1. First on the list is the Fluke 177 Digital Multimeter from John Fluke Mfg (www.fluke.com). As the name implies, this meter can be used to measure voltage, capacitance, resistance, and frequency. Measuring frequency is especially handy when you’re using a generator or variable frequency drive. List price is around $250.
  2. Also from John Fluke Mfg is the Fluke 375 Digital Clamp-On Ammeter. This meter measures current and is crucial for determining how hard the motor is working. List price on this meter is $325.
  3. In a previous post, I stated that a megger could turn time into money (Turning Time into Money). The one Franklin uses is manufactured by Universal Enterprises (www.ueitest.com). Their digital version is called the UEI DMEG3 Digital Megohmeter. It lists for $250 and is worth every dollar. It also can do double duty and measure resistance.
  4. The Simpson 372 Analog Ohmmeter has been a mainstay of our industry and others for literally decades. The 372-3 is the latest version and available at www.simpsonelectric.com. List price is $175.
  5. Is that capacitor still good? If you have a MFD-10 Digital Capacitor Checker from SUPCO (www.supco.com), you can find out in a snap. This little meter is ideal for control box troubleshooting and is only around $75.

MetersThere you have it. A list of the five meters for your toolbox that will allow you to handle just about any water systems troubleshooting scenario you run into. So, while this list may not seem as exciting as others you see this time of year, quickly and effectively diagnosing what’s going on with your customer’s water systems can be satisfying in its own way, not to mention profitable.

If you have any questions about these meters or how to use them, Franklin Electric’s Key Dealer Hotline can help. Don’t hesitate to give us a call at 800/348-2420.

Thanks to Rick Campbell, Franklin Electric, for his contributions to this post.

7 billion and counting

“Your aquifer is the only part of your well system that you can’t replace.”

CaptureThat was the opening line at a lecture I attended last week at the NGWA Ground Water Expo in Las Vegas. The speaker, John Jansen, is the 2013 McEllhiney lecturer for the National Ground Water Research and Education Foundation (NGWREF), and he holds a PhD in Geological Sciences. His presentation is titled Keeping the Pumped Primed – Aquifer Sustainability.

John opened the presentation with a sobering look at the world population over the last 10,000 years. For most of that time the human population grew very slowly, taking until the industrial revolution to reach 1 billion people. It took another 100 years to get to 2 billion in 1927. But by 1960, there were 3 billion on the planet. In 1974 we hit 4 billion, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999, and 7 billion just last year. Estimates are that even with controls, the world’s population will be 10 billion by 2100.

That’s a lot of people who will need water. Here’s where John’s presentation got even more interesting. There are 332 million cubic miles of water on earth, but 97.5% of that is in the oceans. That leaves 2.5% as freshwater, but 69% of that is tied up near the poles in glaciers. The vast majority of that is groundwater, and surface water comprises less than 0.4% of freshwater. You’ve no doubt heard some of these numbers before, but John presents them better graphically than I’ve ever seen. The message is clear: we simply cannot survive without sustaining the groundwater in our aquifers. It’s not only the future of our industry and your business, but it’s the future for much of human society.

All of that was in the first ten minutes of John’s presentation, but John’s perspective is not one of gloom and doom. From there, he moved into the details of how to sustain an aquifer for the very long term–not from an academic viewpoint, but from his real world experience in balancing local economic and political realities with environmental needs, as well as the steps needed for successful aquifer management.

The NGWREF McEllhiney Lecture Series gets stronger every year, and 2013 will be no exception. John will be presenting his lecture throughout the coming year, very likely at a state convention or event you are attending. I highly encourage you to attend. It will be time well-spent.

The McEllhiney Lecture Series in Water Well Technology is made possible by a grant from Franklin Electric.