Drillers in states as diverse as Kentucky, California and Michigan know Dave Schulenberg’s work. The director of partner states for the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) manages day-to-day operations for six state groundwater associations: California, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota and Montana. That means six state events, six training rosters, and six different sets of laws, regulations and expectations.

One common theme he sees is that people perceive drillers everywhere as the folks covered in mud holding a shovel, not as certified, licensed groundwater professionals respected for their expertise.

Dave Schulenberg
Dave Schulenberg

“Think of what you have to know,” he says. “You have to know regulation, hydrology, geology, electrics, … plumbing, codes … CEs, bonding, insurance, running an office. You just don’t go out and pull the lever, put a hole in the ground, and off I go. … That’s an image change that has to happen in the industry nationwide, east to west, north to south.”

In Schulenberg’s role, he likes to help drillers build on that list of expertise, and works to build membership numbers that make state associations hard to ignore in their respective capitols. We brought him on our Drilling In-Site video and podcast series to talk about the juggling act of running six state associations, all with different expectations and training needs. This is an edited summary of our talk. Click here to see the full video, or here to listen to the podcast.

Q. What is it like to manage groundwater associations from the Midwest to West Coast?

A. It’s great. I actually really enjoy doing this, I really do. There is never a dull moment and every day, every week, I am learning something new about this industry. You can’t just sit and become complacent and think, “I’m going to do it this way in this state so it’s going to go that way through every other state, because what’s applicable in say, Michigan or Minnesota, a part of it may work in California or Montana, but it won’t work in Kentucky. You can throw that construct around, however you want to do it, with those names. A big thing that is a challenge is when you’re dealing with water law. Two of the the six sates are first-in-time, first-in-right: Montana and California. The rest of them are pretty much riparian use. … Basically, you own the water under your property as long as it doesn’t interfere with your neighbors’ withdrawal. That can at times pose a challenge, as well, as working with six different state capitals, lobbyists, bills, tracking and things like that. So, Microsoft Outlook’s calendar feature has become a good friend and I have a great support staff with the National Ground Water Association. Partnering with them and being part of this program, really adds that extra layer of professionalism to each of the states. My staff and I work hard every day to make sure that we cover everything from the basics of membership cards and membership dues processing to education offerings, the printing of newsletters, and other such things that really enhance the member experience throughout the states.

Q. You serve six states, each with different training needs. For example, working in Great Lakes States can be very different than in Western drought states like California. What are your strategies for building events with that in mind?

A. Working with the committees in each of the states that focus on their own education or training events — not only with the committees, but also just doing outreach to the members. What is it that your employees need to know about? You can always put together four, five hours for education points on screens, pumps, mud, welding and OSHA. Boom, boom boom. You come in, you do it, you go home. But what you need to do also is you need to start incorporating other classes that focus on increasing business acumen. What are you talking about with succession planning? What are you talking about your exit strategy? Yes, you can talk about OSHA updates and see all the Darwin awards that came out for the previous year. But, what is it that you’re focusing on in your own trench that keeps you and your company safe? Are you properly insured? It really starts to get to … where I interact with my committees and say, “Okay, yes, we can do mud pumps, welding and grouting. But, let’s stretch it out. Let’s talk about emerging contaminants.” “Well, we don’t have to worry about it. We don’t have to worry about PFAS in Idaho.” Well, when they start finding it, you will because you might be working in it.

Q. For folks who don’t belong to their state association, what’s the positive case in 2022? Why should I join?

A. It’s a couple of things. One, there are added benefits to being a member that a non-member won’t get. Some associations may offer additional Insurance. You’re a member of the association, we’ll give you $20,000 of AD&D (accidental death and dismemberment insurance). Just by being a member, you qualify for that. Others will use industry-related support that they have within their state and say look, as member of, for example CGA, you now have the ability to call up the attorney that we partner with and talk about groundwater law if you have a case — for probably a discount or something like that. You partner with the insurance company that the association works with, we’ll get you a little, you know, something-something. You may have an extra inside benefit.

The other important thing … is a voice, a voice at each of those state capitals. You can either become complacent and have state agencies dictate what is going to happen to this industry or be a groundwater professional, and be part of a larger voice and stand up and say, “We know what we’re doing. We’re licensed, we’re certified, were educated. We would like to work with you on this bill. We want to reach out to Natural Resources, or whoever overseas this part of the industry and say, ‘This is what we know.’ ” … You have to continue to be a voice — at local, state levels — about our industry. It’s imperative.

The Full Interview

We interviewed Dave Schulenberg of the NGWA for episode 42 of our Drilling In-Site series. Our talk also covered PFAS, how to foster networking and other topics. See the conversation at www.nationaldriller.com/insite, or listen to the podcast version at www.nationaldriller.com/insite-podcast. Episodes also on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Search Drilling In-Site and tap Subscribe.

Working on an interesting project or have industry wisdom to share? Email verduscoj@bnpmedia.com to be considered for a guest spot on Drilling In-Site.