What trends are you seeing in the groundwater industry?
The economic situation of the past several years has been hard on the groundwater industry, with some sectors and some regions being hit harder than others. The water well construction side has really suffered. For instance, we hear of instances where new well construction has plummeted as much as 98 percent from averages recorded as recently as five years ago. This is then reflected in declines in materials and equipment. Shipments of well pumps by U.S. producers have declined 44 percent in 2010 from an all-time high peak in 2004. Shipments of drilling machines typically used in water well construction have fallen 65 percent over the same period.
These may or may not be trends, but they are a statement of present condition. Fortunately, groundwater professionals have learned to be resilient and flexible. In general, the groundwater industry is trending away from a mindset of “production” (new sources of water, new wells, etc.) to one of management — that is, finding a way to do more with the same, or less.
If you could change one thing about your organization, what would it be?
I would like to see more organizations, firms and individuals endorse NGWA’s efforts by investing in membership and then being active and engaged volunteers. We have a great group now, but I would like to have more in our group so we could do more.
What’s something people might be surprised to know about your organization?
NGWA, despite the “national” in our name, has long been an international organization helping the industry and those who depend on groundwater. We have members in 60 nations and cooperative agreements with our counterparts in 13 nations. We’re going to Italy in October to meet with sister associations from throughout Europe and then leading a delegation of members to meet with industry counterparts in Russia.
Additionally, our foundation makes grants for groundwater supply projects in the poorest places on the planet.
What’s one thing the federal government could do to help your organization?
Of course, business people believe regulations get in the way of their ability to deliver products and services efficiently and effectively. That said, regulations that make sense, truly protect the public’s welfare, and are responsibly enforceable are appropriate.
Some of those regulations relate to groundwater protection. For instance, the federal government has collected taxes for the cleanup of leaking underground storage tanks for years, but not all of the money is directed at cleaning up the messes, preventing them in the future and ultimately protecting public health. These funds, if focused, would benefit those who do those cleanups, our environment and keeping people safe.
How has the recession affected your organization?
The downturns get reflected in the revenues of the association, but we’ve worked diligently to be responsible fiscal managers while still doing everything in our power to deliver on our mission of advancing groundwater knowledge. As a team of staff and volunteers, we’re proud of our 15 consecutive years of surpluses from operations. It remains to be seen if we will have the same financial result in 2011.
We continue to deliver exceptional value for outstanding and award-winning programs, products and services. We have done significant amounts of philanthropy including scholarships and grants for water supply in developing nations. We take on a huge national role in public awareness for groundwater and well stewardship. Not bad for a not-for-profit group working on behalf of a diverse and scattered international industry in the midst of a global recession.
What’s the most significant project you’ve been involved with in your career?
I think I’m particularly proud of our efforts to develop consensus-driven best suggested practices and now third-party accredited standards. We have a membership of brilliant and dedicated people who are eager to share their experience and knowledge to advance groundwater knowledge and to provide and protect groundwater for now and for the future. These efforts channel their remarkable energies toward positive outcomes.
What is the biggest challenge your organization has faced in the past 10 years?
The Web and online services have impacted most associations in ways that we are all still coming to grips with. Despite having nearly instantaneous access to members anywhere on the planet, we find that we still have to be respectful of their time, resources and needs. Our information competes with thousands more sources of information that may not have been so available previously. NGWA continues to evolve its business models to respond, as well as to anticipate. If you had told me years ago that NGWA members would be conversing through something called a “Tweet,” I would have had a good hearty laugh. Yet, now it happens every day.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without at work?
Purpose and meaningful accomplishment.
What’s the worst job you ever had?
I’m not sure it was the worst job because I respect all forms of labor and those who do it, but the hardest job I ever had was laying sod for a landscaping company. Physically brutal, and it turned out I had an allergic reaction to the stuff.
What’s on your to-do list?
For my working life, I want to see NGWA keep marching to raise the bar higher on how the professions provide, protect, manage, and remediate groundwater — reach ever higher toward being respected professionals on par with other scientific, technical and technology pursuits.
I drive my wife crazy because I feel as though I have to be “productive” all the time. A retired middle school teacher, she has banned the “p” word from our household on the weekends.
Outside of work, I’ve been blessed to have experiences that in some ways are almost unimaginable for a single person to have enjoyed. I’ve been to all 50 states and 15 foreign nations. I’ve met presidents of the United States and presidents of foreign nations, movie stars and Watergate burglars, and lots of other interesting people. I spent 10 years researching and writing a history of an Ohio Civil War regiment that won an award. I restored — with a lot of help — a 1967 MG Midget. So I’m always busy, but probably closest on my “bucket list” is to try to find time to write some short stories I’ve sort of sketched out in my head.
What do you see as the biggest issue for your organization over the next decade?
Engaging the next generation of industry professionals in advancing groundwater knowledge and putting that knowledge to work in the field. Like many professions, the groundwater professions have an aging workforce and there doesn’t seem to be the same level of workforce coming up as there was in the 1980s and 1990s. We know the American Geological Institute is looking at this issue, as well, but so are non-geologic professions.
Let’s face it: America doesn’t have the same level of “mechanical aptitude” it once had. We used to be able to work on our cars under a shade tree. Now, engines are sealed and only specially skilled technicians can do those things. We don’t have the same farm labor workforce we once had that taught self-reliance and stimulated mechanical ingenuity. These contribute to workforce challenges in well construction and in manufacturing.
What are the greatest threats to groundwater?
There are two significant threats — ignorance and apathy. Ignorance can breed apathy. A lack of understanding that groundwater is such a significant source of the world’s drinking water supply — some say as high as 50 percent — leads to bad actions in terms of either putting it at risk from contamination or at risk from not using it responsibly in conjunction with other water resources. Apathy is demonstrated by the cavalier way in which too many steward the resource. Because it is so inexpensive to many, we are apathetic to being responsible. Those without enough water truly learn the value of it.