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Ground Water Science - Looking at the Big Picture: How Taking a “World View” of Water Development Helps Your Own Water Planning

In summer 2011, I was stunned by a phone call from one of the guys at Ohio EPA who organized operator training for operators in the Northwest District, Ohio Section AWWA. I had given a talk on my experience in Tanzania searching out and evaluating technical capabilities for water development there. If a group (for example, the Diocese of Youngstown) is raising money to support water development in an area, they like to know that the money was well spent, with wells and distribution equipment properly constructed and working. I help with such evaluation informally for several groups (Water for People is not involved there). The audience (often bored during talks) largely listened intently, asked a lot of questions, and talked to me about it afterward. I have seldom seen them so engaged. “Great,” I thought, “Raising awareness.” Anyway, Richard told me that Ohio EPA’s contact hours evaluation committee had declined to give credit for the 45 min talk.

This made me feel bad, because attendees like to pick up their contact hours at these meetings, and my ¾ hour did not help them with their license requirements. Richard and I both argued our case without success. The subject matter did not pertain to Ohio operations. I could foresee that a talk about getting water for the poor people in Africa would not pass muster, so I focused on the technical aspects and how that related to their own search for water, quality professional and technical services, and resources to keep up quality. I did a lot of this “connect the dots” verbally, so the committee could not see it in my powerpoint slides, I was told.

The committee is doing its due diligence, working to assure quality in talks offered for contact hours. However, they were wrong. An operator needs to look up from the gauges right in front of him and get out to learn the situation in other places. A reasonable retort: “Well, it should be elsewhere in Ohio, with similar regulatory setting, engineering, and hydrology.”

OK, but often you learn more from contrast, and you begin to appreciate and value what you have more when you have been where people don’t have it.

The contrasts in Tanzania are a) well New well in Kilimanjaro: People are grateful toowater supplies are uncertain, b) one has to search for quality service providers (they can be found), c) available equipment is often of poor quality but they have few alternatives, and d) doing the simplest (to us) task can be a major struggle. One thing in common with Ohio: local communities rarely have prepared financially for major upgrades or have diverted water funds to some other purpose, so they rely on outside funding.

In Ohio, while not a sure thing, well water supplies are more ofteanother corroded pumpn taken for granted. However, as in Tanzania, a little thoughtful hydrogeology accentuates the positive in Ohio: placing the well at the best place in the valley or on the right fracture (see our tech article library). Informed advice results in the best materials and equipment being used to limit well deterioration. For the most part, quality service providers are available in Ohio, and one has a choice of options. However, not all well contractors, engineers, or hydrogeologists are equal, and just like in Tanzania, one needs to review experience, qualifications and client services. It can also be easy to overlook the quiet craftsman working in the hills and instead be attracted to the one with sales people and a web site. In Ohio, we have a choice of all the best water system construction material and technology. However, we need to seek it out and see how it meets our needs. We have seen some odd and unfortunate choices in design and materials in both the USA (even Ohio) and Tanzania that could have been avoided by proper analysis ahead of construction. In Tanzania, that can be more obvious – the water eats Chinese pumps quickly -- in months. That motivates one to find something better. In Ohio, even our worst cast-and-bronze pumps are better than those and deterioration takes years, so maybe it is not so obvious. In Ohio, where an hour’s drive back to the shop is no real ordeal, we can be terribly inefficient on project sites and still “git er done!” In Tanzania, if you want anything done within a year, it is necessary to manage each small detail, down to how the pipe is delivered. Even then, the project manager may have a malaria relapse that puts him to bed for two weeks.

Those who talked to me commented on the corrosion and obviously made the connection with their own need to choose wisely. They understood that a mistake in well construction can result in nitrate in the rainy season. They obviously made the connection with their own need for good well specifications. They certainly understood the need for quality service providers. Appreciating a little more their own well-functioning pumps, valves and filters, I expect that they went home and polished and optimized, and put their well records in a notebook. Yes, they learned something. They can make up the ¾ hour at the next “miracle of permanganate” talk – the same one they have heard 20 times. I know I have.

colleagues over dinnerI have other professional contacts and friends around the world. I have learned about wellfield corrosion in Argentina, how fast biofouling and biocorrosion can happen in Jordan, and I have learned a lot in Australia on numerous topics. The Australians have a lot to teach us about professionalism in drilling and in water management in general. When you are dry and resources thin, you become pretty smart about water. In turn, I have taught some of them about well biofouling. That's important if wells are marginal in the first place for sure. We recently enjoyed a visit from my friend and colleague of 20 years, Ross, from Queensland (here with our spouses enjoying Australian fish farmed by one of our USA clients).

An attitude that if you know your own locality, you know everything worth knowing, is common in the East, and in this case, Ohio is like the East. It comes with people with a racial memory of how difficult it is to travel 50 miles, even though that is no longer true. A friendAt the rift valley, Dodoma described this worldview: "The sun rises over Fostoria and sets over Findlay." (Look at a map if that doesn't mean anything to you.) Another version is, if it has not been used here, it isn’t real. That was the attitude about using innovative water treatment technology for many years. There is a word for this attitude, it is parochial, and it is not complimentary. I for one find that my traveling and what I have learned boosts my professionalism.

If you are interested in water development in the developing world, for example involved with funding projects, or anticipating maybe even doing business there, contact me at our web site contact form.

Also here is your chance to gain a global perspective.

Ground+Water Tanzania -- Newly formed company in Tanzania

We also have numerous links to development organizations working in water. If you have suggestions, we can add more.