Well monitoring tech offered to IWVGA

Lee Knudtson of Wellntell presents a potential well-monitoring solution to the Groundwater Authority. Photo by Laura Austin

Well monitoring tech offered to IWVGALee Knudtson of Wellntell presents a potential well-monitoring solution to the Groundwater Authority – Photo by Laura Austin

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By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority has continually discussed its need for additional well data needed to draft an adequate Groundwater Sustain-ability Plan for IWV pumpers. Recently, the Authority heard a brief presentation from Lee Knudtson of Wellntell, who offered an opportunity to upgrade the Authority’s well-monitoring capabilities.

“We’ve invented a tool for monitoring water levels and pumping activity from domestic wells and small ag wells,” said Knudtson. “Several federal and state agencies have adopted our technologies because they’re easy to use and less expensive.”

He offered to have the equipment installed and let the Authority use it for 60 days at no cost. The board can then decide to pay for the service or opt out with no charges.

“I’m confident that you’re not going to want to opt out,” said Knudtson. “I hope to get the chance to work with you in the coming years.”

Knudtson said that outside of replacing the two main parts – a battery and a monitoring microphone – every year or two, there very little maintenance will be required and local technical staff can be trained to work on and operate the system.

Water Resources Manager Steve Johnson said that the technology would compliment what the Authority is trying to accomplish without being too redundant.

“What we’re looking at here is more of a rural-monitoring program,” said Johnson. “There’s probably a lot of good information. This is additional data. As engineers and hydrologists, we always want more information.”

He added that this technology could reduce the cost of monitoring in the future as well.

“From our perspective, it’s good information,” he said. “The technology is good. It does not replace what we’ve already put in place — it augments it. We would support it if the board would like to have this type of information available.”

“A positive thing is that it’s real-time data,” added IWV Water District General Manager Don Zdeba. “If a high-producing well were started and you had a network around that well, you could see in real time the impact on the surrounding wells. There are benefits to the well owners as well. We could potentially see problems ahead of time.

“Ideally you would have this technology on every well in the basin. We can do all the modeling you want, but if you have real time data – that’s huge in my mind,” Zdeba said.

Knudtson said he’d already been approached by members of the community who are interested in having their wells equipped with the technology so they can begin monitoring.

Technical Advisory Committee Chair Adam Bingham said that the committee agrees with the recommendation.

But TAC Member Don Decker said that he and some other well owners have privacy concerns about the technology.

“Some have expressed mild interest, but one of the things they discover is the device is effectively a smart meter on their well and gives them an instantaneous view of when the well goes on and when the well goes off,” said Decker. “Which means that people know when they’re home and that sort of thing.”

Knudtson pointed out that the technology does not actually give off exactly when pumps go on and off, but periodically makes checks of the pump status.

He said this specific method is used to help preserve the privacy of Wellntell’s clients.

“When we developed this we were in Paso Robles, and there are incredible privacy concerns there,” he sad. “We developed this system with the well owners in mind.”

“We came up with a way that would be inconspicuous — the sensor just takes a measurement at a specific interval and only tells if the pump was on or not. It doesn’t tell you how long it’s been running,” Knudtson said in a later interview.

“And people like having it because they can see how often it’s turning on and off. If they see that it’s turning on when they’re away, that means there’s probably a leak somewhere.”

Knudtson also wanted to address concerns about whether the aim is to somehow limit domestic water use of small-well owners.

“That’s not at all the purpose of our technology,” he said. “Out tool is for understanding if and when shallow-well owners are at risk and why.

“If you look at your groundwater model, there are many places where it’s coming out with estimates that are more than 20 feet away from what the actual measurement is. Models are a good estimate, but with our technology you can do more.”

He said that pumpers would have a much better idea about the basin if there was a large network of monitored wells spread throughout the valley.

“It’s much more valuable to use multiple monitoring points to understand what the aquifer is doing and how it’s trending as a whole to understand the risk to the shallow well owners.”

Knudston said he had firm interest from four or five well owners with about a dozen others who are “on the fence” because of privacy concerns.

“We would need about three times that many to get a good selection and get the most valuable data for the water district wells and the ag wells – the people who are most at risk,” he said.

The IWVGA will presumably make a decision on how to best utilize Knudtson’s offer at its February meeting.

He also said he hopes to put together a community meeting where he can address any concerns the public has about Wellntel’s technology.

Interested parties can learn more online at wellntell.com.

Story First Published: 2019-02-01