Tell us about the background of your business. Dad started the business in 1971 so I grew up with it. I even have a picture in my office of me in my stroller next to a drill rig. I went to college after graduating from high school in 1990. After four years of college, I came back to the family business. Our mail office is in Sleepy Eye, Minn. I came over to Rochester in 2001 and started another branch. It was during the housing boom.
What kind of wells do you dig? We do everything – residential, commercial, city work and agricultural. We’ve done quite a few larger dairy farms. About 50 percent of our work is agriculturally related. Over in Sleepy Eye, it’s all agricultural. We’ve done city wells for smaller towns like Racine and Dexter
Describe the process of drilling a well. It varies in southern Minnesota quite a bit because of the land formation. There are different aquifers anywhere you’re at. Some of the upper ones are contaminated, so we have to go to some of the lower ones. When we drill we know what aquifer we’re drilling into before we do anything. For a residential well, we drill an 8-inch hole down to that aquifer, then put in a four-inch casing. Then we grout around the casing with cement grout. On a dairy farm, we drill about a 10-inch hole down to the aquifer and put a six-inch casing in.
How many workers and how much equipment do you have on one project? We send out two-man crews. For drilling a well, we use a drill rig and a water truck. The water truck has all our casings and we bring 2,000 gallons of water out to every job.
What’s the point of bringing water with you? When we’re drilling we pump about 10 gallons a minute down our drill stream. We mix a foam that helps lift the cuttings. When we drill we’re blowing air down. The foam helps lift the cuttings out of the hole.
What’s a common aquifer around here? The Jordan Sandstone is a common aquifer used in the Rochester area. It’s usually about 400 feet deep. Over towards Lewiston it’s about 600 feet deep. When we go farther east we have to do deeper. Then we’re getting into the Franconia and the Ironton-Galesville aquifers.
How far of a radius do you cover? About 75 miles
Are there other areas where you don’t have to dig as deep? Yes, it depends on the elevation. If you’re in a valley, you may only have to go down 200 to 300 feet. Some of the city wells we’ve dug have been about 1,000 feet.
Do you use a well witcher? Over here it’s not really necessary because there’s water everywhere, but over in our other office we’ve had problems with finding water. There are some older guys that specialize in using a well witcher. The success rate is about 50 percent, and it’s not as common of a practice anymore. Over in the western Minnesota area, water can be hard to find. You’re looking for pockets of sand and gravel with water in it. These aquifers don’t exist over there. If you don’t have sand and gravel, you’re not going to find water. It will be clay all the way down.
How many wells do you drill in one year? Last year in our Rochester office we drilled about 60. That’s not counting geothermal wells. Last year we did about a dozen geothermal well projects, which ranged from four to 12 wells per project.
Do you have to test the water? Every new well drilled needs to be tested by a certified lab. We test for three things: nitrates, bacteria and arsenic. They just started making us test for arsenic a couple years ago.
Are there certain things to be cautious of? Iron is a big problem, especially with the deeper aquifers. You can test for iron. It can be controlled by different methods. The new method is hydrogen peroxide injection. A lot of the dairy farmers are going to that rather than using chlorine, which is very corrosive. Hydrogen peroxide is not as corrosive and seems to do a better job controlling the iron growth in the well before it gets into the parlor. Some people treat it in the parlor with an iron treatment system filter, but that’s pretty expensive, especially for large quantities.
Are there other problems to watch out for? It’s hit and miss. I’ve drilled the exact well across the road from each other at the same depth in the same aquifer and one has really good water with not very much iron and the other has a lot of iron. When you’re drilling you might hit a pocket of iron, which is a mineral. If you hit that, you’ll have high iron in your water. Manganese also causes problems.
What’s the best part about your job? I like being outside in the sunshine during the summertime.
What’s the hardest part about your job? The organization of trying to get the crews out every day and making sure they have the right equipment and tools – just the logistics. In the summer we have three crews. If you’re missing one thing and you’re 50 miles from the shop it ruins a whole day.
Is digging a well ever dangerous? Everything is overhead because the mast is 40 feet above our head, so we always have to be cautious. We wear hard hats. We’re working with our hands a lot so if there are any injuries it’s usually involving our hands. The actual drilling process – no.