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University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Nebraska Well Drillers Association Archives

Courtesy of the School of Natural Resources

A History of Cooperation of Cooperation Between NWDA and CSD

by Marj Seidel, formerly CSD administrative assistant
Vince Dreeszen, CSD hydrogeologist emeritus, formerly CSD director.

Reprinted from
Flat Water: A History of Nebraska and Its Water
1993, CSD

Timing was right in the late 1920s for a focus on groundwater in Nebraska. A new science--groundwater hydrology--was slowly becoming established at the state and federal levels and desperately needed data. Well drilling as an industry was emerging out of the dark ages of "water witching" and "well digging." The close relationship between certain diseases--notably typhoid fever, cholera and diphtheria--and poorly constructed wells had been established. And early investigations suggested the potential of a vast groundwater resource in the state.

Dr. George E. Condra, dean and director of the Conservation and Survey Division (CSD) of the University of Nebraska, grasped the opportunity to provide service to the industry and to the people of the state. Condra, a visionary and a dedicated scientist, began two complementary activities. In 1929 he established a cooperative test-drilling and water-level monitoring program with the U.S. Geological Survey, and, with the help of a number of interested drillers, organized a statewide association of well drillers.

In January 1929, Condra invited 12 water-well drillers to the university campus to organize the association. Among those present at the first meeting were Harry Brown of Blair, Frank Cole of Loomis, Andrew Olson of Oakland, Fred D. Salmon of Wakefield, Jay Webb of Hastings, and Frank Williams of Belvidere. Brown was named interim president of the group, thereafter called the Nebraska Well Drillers Association (NWDA). Held in old Nebraska Hall on February 28, 1929, Condra set forth in the first meeting the goals of the association and advised the members that Nebraska was only the sixth state to form an association of water-well drillers. He helped establish the format of an annual convention, including a trade show and "Dutch Lunch" sponsored by the manufacturers and suppliers of drilling equipment. Seventeen manufacturing and supplier representatives attended that first meeting. The manufacturers and suppliers have been an integral part of NWDA events through the years.

The key element of that two-day convention was a "short course." The short course envisioned by Condra was designed to educate members about the geology and groundwater characteristics of the state and techniques of well drilling and construction needed to obtain a safe and adequate water supply. From the beginning a spirit of cooperation and sharing of ideas and techniques among the drillers was encouraged. Minutes of early meetings suggest that some members viewed idea sharing as a revelation of trade secrets. That barrier has gradually broken down, and over time cooperation and idea sharing among members became the strength of the organization.

CSD continued to sponsor the NWDA until 1982, when the association hired a part-time executive director and began to chart its own destiny. However, the division continues to work closely with NWDA, co-sponsoring its continuing education efforts across the state.

NWDA provided leadership for the water-well industry in developing industry standards. With the help of the University of Nebraska and several state offices, the drillers developed and adopted minimum standards for irrigation wells in 1957 and, in 1965, minimum standards for sanitary domestic wells. The water-well standards and contractors' licensing act of 1986 requires that well drillers and pump installers earn credits for educational activities attended and must pass an examination to receive a license. These requirements have spurred NWDA to increase the number and scope of the sessions.

The annual convention and trade show, held each February in Lincoln, is the highlight of the NWDA year. Hazardous weather has had little effect on the hardy well driller, accustomed to working under the most disastrous conditions, so the conventions are well attended. World War II travel restrictions resulted in cancellation of the conventions of 1943, 1944 and 1945. But except for those three years, members and supporters of the drilling industry gather each February to exchange information, to see the latest products and to greet old friends. Through the years, NWDA has become one of the largest and most successful of state water well drillers associations in the country.