If you have read this column many times, you have probably figured out that I am what might be called a “convention freak.” I think this is a true statement since I went to my first well driller’s convention in 1952. I don’t think I have ever been to a convention, what we now call a conference or a dealer day at a supply house that I did not enjoy. I haven’t added up the total recently, but I think I am approaching 150 of these types of events in my lifetime. I am of the opinion that if you really go to one of these things, you can’t fail to meet someone new who it will be in your best interest to know, see a new product that you might want to use or learn a new process, especially in drilling, that can be valuable to you.

Now, by really going to the event, I mean that you will attend seminars and workshops and really listen to what is being said, view the exhibits and, if you find someone you don’t know, introduce yourself and get to know him or her. You can’t just register, talk to your favorite pump distributor or rig manufacturer, and then head for the nearest bar. That is not going to the event; it’s what I call “showing up.” If you want to skip social events, that, in my opinion, is OK. Most cocktail hours have far too many people present to really enjoy the event, and many banquets tend to have mediocre food, windbag presentations and a very high cost. As a reader, you have the right to disagree with any of this.

So far in 2018, I have attended the Michigan Ground Water Association Conference and two of what I call dealer days. Last month, I wrote about the conference, which was held in February in Traverse City (actually, Acme), Mich. The dealer days were held on the outskirts of Lansing (our state capital) and in Mount Pleasant, Mich., at a casino. The following a first report of what I learned at these events.

At the MGWA Conference, I attended several workshops or seminars. The subject of the first was well design. The most important thing I learned at this session is that, if you are drilling a well by the mud rotary method and completing it in a sand and gravel aquifer and are going to gravel pack, you had better design the gravel pack very, very carefully. The fineness or coarseness of the pack itself is important, and the thickness of the pack is also very important. Select a pack that is too fine, and you may have a sand pumper. Use a pack that is too thin or too thick and, in the first case, you may have a sand pumper and, in the second, development problems. If development is a problem, the efficiency of the new well will suffer. If this is a backyard well for a home, you can probably get away with an inefficient well. But if this is a high capacity well for a city, manufacturing plant or irrigation, low efficiency will give your customer a not very good product. There is plenty of information available and individuals to consult with in order to avoid a poor gravel pack situation if you do it before you place the pack.

In another class or seminar, I learned that a well development chemical that I have used with great success at times is now banned. While drilling by the cable tool method, on occasion, I have encountered sand and gravel aquifers that had some clay present. To break up or loosen this clay so it could be pumped out during development, I would sometimes use a phosphate product. I would mix this with water in an above-ground tank — and it was difficult to mix — then pump it into the formation or just pour it down the casing. I would then surge the well with a surge block and let it set for anywhere from 12 to 48 hours. I would then surge the well again and go back to test pumping. I had many spectacular improvements in well capacity, and a few total failures including no improvement at all. I found that this phosphate product is no longer legal to use — good thing I don’t use it anymore. There are, I understand, newer products that are legal that accomplish the same purpose. 

At the McEllhiney Lecture, in a very good presentation, I learned that groundwater is, in effect, the stepchild of water supply. Many engineers and public officials say they will not use groundwater as a supply as it is unreliable. I think this is utter bunk. I think the real reason groundwater is a stepchild is that dams, canals, and reservoirs are easy for the taxpayers to see and aquifers are not.

Mike Frederick, the Lansing lobbyist for the Michigan Ground Water Association, gave a presentation on how things are going at the state capital. With elections coming up in November, he reviewed several candidates for important elected positions. He did not make any predictions as to who he thought would be the winners. This, in my opinion, is a wise policy.

He did give a reasonable answer to a question that has bothered me for quite some time. It seems there are large numbers of uninsured motorists driving around in our state. Another member asked how this could be. This is a question I had in my mind, since when I go to renew my license plates, I am asked for the renewal coupon, proof of insurance and, of course, payment — cash, credit card or check. If you don’t have proof of insurance, you’re not going to get a new plate or the little tab that is stuck to the corner of your old plate. So, how do you get around this without insurance? Well, you don’t, but only for a few days. It seems there are all kinds of insurance agencies that will sell you a one-week or two-week policy. So you get one of these short-term policies, go get your license plates and then let the policy lapse. If you don’t get into an accident or aren’t stopped for a violation, you are “home free” — and I do mean “free,” as I understand Michigan has the highest cost auto insurance of any state. It has never occurred to me to attempt such a shady practice. I guess I am just too honest and I bet you readers are, too.

Well, there are some of the things that this old driller and pump man learned at a recent conference. You too can learn valuable information if you go to the next conference available to you. Next time, I’ll write about my experiences at the two dealer days I attended. 

In my monthly weather report, we in southern Michigan have had just awful weather the last few weeks and it is the last half of April. Yesterday morning, we had about 2 inches of snow on the ground, and last weekend, we had the only freezing rain we’ve had the entire cold weather season. Our weather is more like early March than late April and the forecast is not improving very fast. I understand many major league baseball games have been postponed due to bad weather everywhere. ’Til next time, remember to always keep learning.

For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.thedriller.com/schmitt.