With the continual water shortages in Georgia, drilling contractors rarely find themselves without work these days.

Cities all over the country are growing quickly, often expanding into once remote areas. With this rapid growth comes the need to supply water to the residents and businesses operating in these areas. Georgia contractors working in the water well industry rarely find themselves without work these days.

Jerry Colwell, owner of Middle Georgia Water Systems Inc., Zebulon, Ga., and his family have been in business since 1970. Operating in Zebulon and Atlanta, Colwell and his 30 employees keep busy contracting water well, septic, geothermal and pump service projects.

With a lot of new growth in Georgia, Colwell has grown the company's water well business by supplying a much needed service to the area.

"We contract water well drilling jobs on residential, commercial and industrial projects," Colwell explains. "Water shortages have really opened up new business with cities for us. We also do a lot of work in new housing developments and often drill irrigation wells for apartment complexes."

Colwell's drilling crew consists of 12 to 13 members, with two people on each rig and job supervisors. He estimates that his crews do four to five residential jobs per machine a week, using four 2003 model Ingersoll-Rand T3W water well drills and several commercial and industrial projects per week using a 2001 model Ingersoll-Rand T4W water well drill.

"We rotate our fleet every two to three years," stresses Colwell. "I like to keep the fleet new. It keeps my crews happy, and we get to take advantage of new technology and design innovations."

Colwell chooses drills based on his crews' applications. "We chose IR drills because they're small, light and operator-friendly," he adds. "We use mid-range water well rigs because that's what we need for our projects."

Ground conditions also play a role in Colwell's drill rig choice. In the Zebulon and Atlanta areas, as well as most of Georgia, the crews mainly deal with metamorphic rock and red clay. Both of these formations are normally drilled with air using a DHD.

On several projects, Middle Georgia Water Systems crews have experienced sandy soils and gravel beds, which required the crews to use water-based drilling fluids to keep the holes open. In conditions like this, drillers constantly face the challenge of mixing the fluids properly for drilling and keeping the holes open to set the casings properly, especially casing pipe settings greater than 150 feet. As good practice, Colwell and his drilling crews often bring a mud pump on site with their drill rigs in the event that they experience these soil conditions.

Each project starts with a supervisor from Middle Georgia Water Systems looking over the project and bidding it out. Once the contract is signed, Colwell requires the contracting party to make sure site preparation is completed before the Middle Georgia Water Systems crew and equipment start.

Site preparation includes grading out the area and making sure that the Middle Georgia Water Systems drill rig and water truck can gain access to the job site. Often in new building projects, an access road will have to be built for the crew.

One important part of the site preparation process is locating the water on the project site. On residential projects, Middle Georgia Water Systems sales associates in general take their cue from existing professional geologist suggestions. The associate goes on site and looks for certain geological features that indicate water, such as rock outcroppings and lower areas of the property. The Middle Georgia Water Systems associate also meets with the general contractor and the customer during this process to plan the project.

On commercial, industrial and municipal projects, Middle Georgia Water Systems relies on the services of professional geologists, who are hired to analyze the property and stake out the site for drilling.

While site preparation is underway, Middle Georgia Water Systems can assist the client in obtaining the necessary site permits. Once everything is in order, Middle Georgia Water Systems crews can go to work. Colwell estimates the entire process takes two to three weeks.

"On a residential project, it usually takes our crews one day to drill," he explains. "On commercial and industrial projects, we will spend one to two days, depending on the job. We are very productive because demand is so high."

The southeastern area of the United States is known for its hard rock and deep water tables. In Georgia, the Middle Georgia Water Systems crews average 300 feet to 400 feet on residential jobs and 600 feet for commercial wells, although it is not uncommon for the crews to drill deeper, according to Colwell, who says they have drilled 450 feet or more on residential well projects.

The diameter of the drill hole also depends on the application. "Most of our residential applications require a 4-inch, 5-inch or 6-inch hole," says Colwell. Once the hole is drilled, the water well crew trips out the drill string and installs the well casing, and then the Middle Georgia Water Systems pump service crew goes in and installs the water pump.

With more than 30 years of experience, Colwell and his crews have learned many lessons through valuable experience. According to Colwell, the key to success is to go to every job prepared and to do the job right the first time. To have to go back and re-do a project means losing profit.

Companies like Middle Georgia Water Systems rely on their good reputations to build their business. "We are contracted by cities and counties to do commercial projects; for residential projects we are contracted by either the homeowner or the building contractors," says Colwell. "We also do subcontracting work. We get a lot of work through referrals and prior relationships."

Other challenges drilling crews must always cope with are tight deadlines and emergency situations. Workload depends on market conditions and the area's climate conditions. During a draught, water well drillers are in constant demand. During normal rainfall years, drilling companies are able to manage a more stable water well drilling market.

One thing that Colwell and his Middle Georgia Water Systems team have noticed in the last years, especially in draught conditions, is that people are realizing the importance of ground water development along with economic concerns. City water can be very expensive, and in Georgia, cooling tower water can evaporate quickly in the hot summer months, leaving many customers with hefty water bills or with lost or low water pressure. This results in an insufficient water supply to effectively run their cooling units. In situations where cooler office temperatures are essential to equipment like computers operating productively, it is vital that the chillers continue to function. In these situations, many are turning to water well contractors to help them tap into ground water supplies to stay up and running. This continues to mean more business for water well drilling contractors.

Emergency situations always will present water well drilling contractors with unique challenges in rearranging their current projects to provide service where needed. But most contractors, including Middle Georgia, make an effort to change their drilling schedules for emergency situations whenever possible.

As long as cities continue to grow, people will always need to access water. Contracting firms like Middle Georgia Water Systems will continue to prosper in the water well industry by keeping up with demand, with high-production rates and quality service.