Historically, those of us in the well drilling industry who live and work on the East Coast have not had a lot of worries about water quantity. We have enjoyed an environment of plenty. And while we do address our fair share of concerns about water quality and groundwater protection, we have not focused very much interest or concern on what the future may hold if that environment of plenty changes.

However, it now appears that with an environment of diminishing water resources, it no longer is a question of "if." Years of drought and changing climate have changed the scene. Clearly, the days of plentiful water in the southeastern United States, and perhaps the whole world, are over. We are now faced with an environment in which water is rapidly becoming a scarce commodity. Once again, we as an industry are in the position of reacting to a situation that has widespread implications for our livelihood.

All over the county, state and local governments are making decisions about how, when and from what sources water can be used. Courts across the land are deciding who has the right to use water from any given source. Private industry is finding ways to buy water rights and to control not only who uses the water, but also at what cost. The federal government is spending billions of tax dollars on building and repairing public water systems. These systems guarantee neither good water quality nor quantity to those who pay to use them.

    Just to get an idea of what is happening, here are a few recent examples:

  • New Jersey has a moratorium on construction in certain areas of the state due to aquifer depletion;

  • Kansas is working on a zero depletion plan for the endangered Ogalalla Aquifer;

  • Atlanta and Augusta, Ga., are squabbling over a water transfer that threatens the city of Augusta's water supply;

  • Florida, Georgia and Alabama are negotiating a three-state water management plan. Negotiations now are in their second year;

  • Seattle has a mandatory water use reduction program which has reduced per capita usage by 20 percent;

  • Virginia Polytechnical Institute has received $800,000 to research a state-wide resource management strategy; and

  • South Carolina has appointed a study group to work on water resource management.

When all is said and done, it is clear that water and water management will be the most critical environmental issue of the new century. For that reason, it is crucial for well drillers to get involved in the water resource planning process immediately. As major stakeholders in the water industry, we represent both our industry and the private-well-using public. By virtue of that representation, we have much to bring to the table regarding water resources planning. We have knowledge that should be available to decision makers. We have technical information that can be useful to engineers and groundwater scientists. We have a perspective on the positive aspects of private wells as an important water delivery resource that planners often have overlooked.

Water resources' planning is extremely complex. It cannot be left to politicians, bureaucrats and academics. Too often we see evidence that the people who are making water resources decisions are lacking in the experience, technical expertise or just plain common sense that planning of this scope requires.

Drillers have hands-on basic knowledge of such key issues as the interconnection between groundwater and surface water, the dangers and impacts of over-extracting aquifers, or the vulnerability of reliance on large public water systems that are based on surface water that is diminishing in both quality and quantity.

Drillers have an important perspective that needs to be brought to the water resources planning dialogue. The water resource planning process is going to need every good idea that good science, engineering and practical expertise can provide. Are you and your local industry representatives a part of the process?