Featured Partner: Nebraska Well Drillers Association
By Duane Mohlman
UNL Nebraska Water Center
The Nebraska Well Drillers Association (NWDA) has had a long and profound impact on Nebraska’s groundwater resources. Since 1929, NWDA has brought together the state’s well drillers, key industry leaders and University of Nebraska scientists for the betterment of all Nebraska.
To quote NWDA’s mission statement, “The organization has served the industry by providing technical training, new product exposure, idea sharing and fellowship among its members. The organization represents businesses and industries as well as technicians dealing with water well drilling, pump installation, manufacturing and supplying of equipment and material for water well work. The organization has also become a significant voice in legislative and regulatory matters before the State of Nebraska.”
A Brief History
Ideas for a statewide water well association began forming in the last half of the 1920s. Seidel and Dreeszen, in their 1993 article NWDA: Leadership for the Water Well Industry, summarized the growing need for such an organization when they wrote “Timing was right in the late 1920s for a focus on groundwater in Nebraska. A new science--groundwater hydrology--was slowly becoming established at the state and federal levels and desperately needed data. Well drilling as an industry was emerging out of the dark ages of "water witching" and "well digging." The close relationship between certain diseases--notably typhoid fever, cholera and diphtheria--and poorly constructed wells had been established. And early investigations suggested the potential of a vast groundwater resource in the state.
“Dr. George E. Condra, dean and director of the Conservation and Survey Division (CSD) of the University of Nebraska, grasped the opportunity to provide service to the industry and to the people of the state. Condra, a visionary and a dedicated scientist, began two complementary activities. In 1929 he established a cooperative test-drilling and water-level monitoring program with the U.S. Geological Survey, and, with the help of a number of interested drillers, organized a statewide association of well drillers.”
In addition, typhoid fever that had earlier claimed the life of Condra’s seven-year-old son was believed to have come from drinking contaminated well water while on a trip with his father.
In January 1929, Condra invited a dozen well drillers to campus to organize a professional association. From this initial meeting, the Nebraska Well Drillers Association was formed, with Harry Brown of Blair as their first (interim) president.
Their first convention was held February 28 - March 1, 1929 where Condra informed them that they were just the sixth state to form such an association. He explained the importance of the well driller and obtaining a dependable supply of pure and healthy water for Nebraskans.
Their annual Lincoln convention has become an NWDA highlight and has been held every year except 1943-45 when war-induced travel restrictions cancelled it. The 2010 convention will be Feb. 17-18, at the Lancaster County Event Center.
“The convention includes a trade show as well as special opportunities for continuing education training. New opportunities for ‘hands on’ programs because of the larger facility and inside ‘dirt’ arena will add special interest to the 2010 event”, said NWDA executive director Lee Orton.
The annual January Short Course also envisioned by Condra “Was designed to educate members about the geology and groundwater characteristics of the state and techniques of well drilling and construction needed to obtain a safe and adequate water supply” (Seidel and Dreezen: 1993).
“That short course tradition has become the principle technical training event for NWDA and draws record crowds each year,” Orton said.
In the late 1970s NWDA retained its first part-time manager. In 1982 Orton was hired to assist in developing a professional licensing and continuing education program, which was adopted that year. With its own professional management, the association separated from CSD, yet CSD (now part of UNL’s School of Natural Resources), continues to assist them with a number of continuing education events and cosponsors many of those programs. In addition, SNR houses NWDA archives.
NWDA has an accomplished history of providing leadership in developing water-well industry standards. Working with NU scientists and state agencies, some of these include:
- Developed and adopted minimum standards for irrigation wells (1957)
- Developed and adopted minimum standards for sanitary domestic wells (1965)
- Water-Well Standards and Contractors’ Licensing Act (1986).
- Sponsorship of a majority of the continuing education programs required for industry license renewal (1986).
- Partnership with the “Grout Task Force” investigations of grout materials.
The 1986 Licensing Act requires that all well drillers and pump installers earn educational credits, and must pass an examination to receive their license. These 1986 requirements caused NWDA to increase the quantity and diversity of its educational offerings.
NWDA has a current contractor membership of 155, and many affiliated individual, company and government agency members. It continues to be involved in a number of important, on-going projects, including:
- Education: Sponsors the annual convention and cosponsors with UNL an annual technical workshop; Sponsors numerous outdoor workshops, special training events and geology tours in Nebraska and throughout the Great Plains.
- Industry News: Quarterly magazine Water Writes
- Insurance: Complete insurance protection is available
- Government Liaison: NWDA monitors state legislative activity and when needed, interacts with lawmakers. Works with state agencies involved with groundwater activities, and other groups.
- Industry Promotion: Represents the industry on several committees, including state and federal. Provides information and news releases to media and trade publications.
- Public Affairs: Promotes youth and adult groundwater education.
- Scholarship: Presents annual George Condra Scholarship to a Nebraska student studying water resources/planning.
Through Condra’s visionary work, and many others since then, NWDA has become one of the largest and most successful state water well drillers associations in the U.S.
For more information go online to http://www.nebraskawelldrillers.org, phone (402) 476-0162, contact via the Internet at http://www.nebraskawelldrillers.org/contact.htm, or write: NWDA, 1223 Lincoln Mall, Suite 201, Lincoln, NE 68508. Annual convention minutes, photographs and programs; short course and banquet programs; and other archival information are online at http://nwda.unl.edu.
Any water well contractor, pump installation contractor, repair person, or friend of the water well industry, is welcome to become a member. Current membership fees range from $40 to $275 and membership applications are online.
(Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series featuring Nebraska water and environmental non-governmental organizations and/or partners of the UNL Nebraska Water Center. By featuring these groups we hope to promote their good work. We thank Lee Orton for his contributions to this article).