Wellntel and UC Berkeley Hydroclimate Group to Make Groundwater More Visible

For Immediate Release — Milwaukee, WI — September, 2013 // 

The Wisconsin water technology firm Wellntel, working with scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, will bring groundwater into view to help make it sustainable. It’s a bold project that will have lasting positive global consequences.

Until recently, ample groundwater seemed like a sure thing. Generally, if you could afford to drill a hole in the ground, you would eventually find clean water to pump to the surface to use for drinking, washing or irrigating. However, groundwater risks created by population growth, pumping and climate change have recently become a major new factor affecting economic prosperity, food supplies and even health and peace.

When groundwater levels change, many people are affected. Homeowners and farmers pay upwards of $1.2B a year in the U.S. to keep water flowing from their wells. Groundwater contractors find it more difficult to locate ample supply of water to support the populations in their regions. Local governments can’t balance permitting with development plans. Financial markets and insurers have started to notice; good credit, bond ratings and insurability can depend on a local groundwater sustainability plan, and very few exist.

Meanwhile, scientists who study groundwater and make recommendations have been frustrated by a lack of information. For example, the only time local groundwater level information is collected is when a well is dug, so it can be old and inaccurate. Sometimes records are not available at all.

For the most part, we’re all guessing about groundwater.

The good news is that groundwater can be treated like a savings account with automatic deposits. Rain and surface water sources naturally replenish groundwater, given enough time and a route. With a little information about what’s happening down there, people who need and care about groundwater can create a budget that lowers their costs, protects property values, balances the needs of neighbors and improves crop production.

Wellntel has developed a technology that makes information about groundwater easy and inexpensive to get. Wellntel sensors continuously measure water level in a well. The information can be collected, charted and used to trigger alarms if something is amiss.

UC Berkeley scientists will work with Wellntel engineers to combine this groundwater information with other related data, like gravity, precipitation and soil moisture, to show correlations and help owners and managers develop groundwater budgets.

The teams will start by connecting Wellntel sensors on a field of wells in a water stressed region and feed the data from these sensors to a groundwater computer model which will interpret changes in greater detail and resolution than has been available before. Well owners participating in the study will be able to privately see, in real time, fluctuations in the water table, their own well’s production and they’ll gain a greater understanding of other influences like rain and pumping.

The lead scientist at UC Berkeley, Dr. Norman Miller, adjunct professor of geography and a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change, is an expert on the hydroclimate, the science of physical factors that impact water and weather. His research focuses on understanding climate, hydrology, and ecology factors on energy and water supply and demand, water quality, agriculture, and impacts to other sectors of society.

The lead researcher, Raj Singh, UC Berkeley PhD candidate in geography. will carry out the numerical simulations and primary data analysis for the project and report on the impact and potential in the new data and will work closely with Wellntel product and website designers.

Wellntel is the brainchild of Marian Singer and Nicholas Hayes, Milwaukee-area business partners and entrepreneurs who have worked together leading research for product development in the water and energy sectors for over a decade. Their work with Fortune 250 clients has produced innovations in manufacturing, chemical, paper, mining and wastewater treatment. Wellntel marks a shift for the team, from exploring markets and coming up with ideas for others, to launching one of their own. It comes on the heels of a year-long research project to understand groundwater globally that took them on a whirl-wind tour of drought-stricken regions of North America, to the water-centric Netherlands, and to India, where more people depend on groundwater than anywhere else in the world.

Key U.S. Statistics:

• Groundwater supplies 50% of drinking supply
• Groundwater supplies 42% of irrigation supply
• Groundwater is stressed: 60% of population lives in a problem area