Imagine turning on your faucet one day only to find there is no water flowing. Your well has run dry, and you have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to fix it. When a North Carolina scientist ran into this issue, he searched for a product that could help. When he could not find one, he took matters into his own hands.
In 2008, North Carolina was in the midst of a severe drought, and serious water problems were on the horizon for many well owners. Hillsborough, N.C., resident Steve Judd worried that his well could not provide the water that his family and the horses on his 180-acre farm depend on daily.
As a responsible well owner, Judd knew the key to keeping his farm running was to measure the water levels in his wells to avoid future problems. He searched the Internet for a device that measured well water depths but did not to find anything suitable. With a Massachusetts Institute of Technology degree under his belt and a laboratory at his disposal, Judd started drawing up ideas for a new product.
After testing his well measuring device, which he named the Well Watch 600, on his own wells, Judd knew he had the right formula. “Once the project was complete, I immediately felt at ease with how much water was in my own well,” he said. “I started using it on the neighbors’ wells as well, and they just couldn’t believe what I had created.”
Instead of the typical method of lowering a water level tape down a well to get an accurate measurement, the new device uses sound waves to measure water level. Requiring only a power source where it can be plugged in, the device sends sound waves down the well that bounce back to measure its depth. It then keeps a record over time of water levels, which can be downloaded onto a computer using a standard USB.
According to Judd, the device helped neighborhood residents closely monitor their wells while easing the contamination concerns that can accompany traditional measurement methods.
The device has since been put to use in other residential applications across the U.S. Marilyn Cate, who lives just outside Houston, was having similar issues to Judd’s during Texas droughts. She was concerned about having enough water to survive day in and day out.
“We are so pleased with our Well Sounder [another well measuring model developed by Judd’s company]; it has eliminated all our worries about our well drawing down,” Cate said. “I’ve spent thousands of dollars replacing and lowering pipe into my wells. This device has already saved me a fortune.”
Drought is not the only factor that can cause wells to lower—construction and new development also can affect water well levels.
In 2010, Wake County, N.C., reached out to Eno Scientific, Judd’s company, and asked if it could purchase 10 Well Watch units for use. The county credits the devices with helping it get through a difficult time, when area residents wanted to get to the bottom of where their water was going. There was a lot of redevelopment in the area, and existing residents noticed their private water well levels dropping during this construction. The county started keeping its own records and even left some of the units it used hooked up to wells for new residents who moved into developments with groundwater shortage concerns.
“The device protects people from low well water levels and from over-development, which could cause geological shifts that change the water supply,” Judd said. “Without a device like this, homeowners could not prove when their well started running low.”
Commercial & Industrial Applications
Commercial water users also have use for the water well level measuring technology. Schools and golf courses have implemented Well Watch devices, and farmers as far away as Australia are using it to keep an eye on their water levels for crops and livestock.
The device also has been put to use in industrial applications. “I have used one of these models for more than two years now. There is virtually no maintenance, and it is very simple to collect the data,” said Jarrod Reynolds, who works for a large gas company.
Even well drillers are using it. Most drillers who head out to measure well water depths know they are leaving for a 24-hour job. They keep a manual record of water depth over the course of a day to determine the extent of the issue. Using a Well Watch device simplifies the process, as the unit records the data, and the driller needs only to download the information.
Jim Sparrow of the Water Specialists credited Eno Scientific’s devices with making his job easier on a daily basis. “We are able to cut down on the hours we need to put in on one specific well,” he said. “I no longer have to have my guys spend days monitoring wells to measure depth. I just pop one of these devices on, come back and download the data a day later, and I’m done.”
The devices also have proven useful in wells that are too deep for tape to reach the bottom—a situation that can result in less accurate readings. “This series worked great with a well I struggled to get an accurate measurement on,” said Dennis Barkley, a well driller in California.
Judd never thought his neighborhood problem could lead to something more. “I set out to invent something to help my family and my farm, and it turned out to become a device that helps homeowners, business owners and communities across the globe,” he said. “I believe [that] in this country, we take water for granted. But if you run out, you cripple entire communities. With the drought, this is a real threat we need to prepare for.”