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New rig helps Wells of Hope drill fresh water in South America

December 15, 2010  By Jim Meyers

Ted van der Zalm has gone back to Guatemala to continue his Wells of Hope mission to drill community water wells, but this time a red, shiny-new Foremost DR-24 drilling rig should be waiting for him on his arrival.

Everyone pitches in when it comes to carrying water. Photo by Alex Hildebrand.


You would think that would make him as excited as a kid with a new toy, but not Ted, who considers the $1.2-million drill rig and supply truck with 1,300 feet of drill pipe to be a tool to do God’s work.


“I’m very realistic to all the challenges before us. I’m not getting excited, just dealing with them one at a time,” he said matter-of-factly just two days before he left on Feb. 15 with his wife Miriam and their five children from their home in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario for the mountainous country in Central America.

They have made the trip as a family each year for the past seven years. This time they were accompanied by nine Grade 12 students from the Niagara Region in an educational pilot program. They will earn six high school credits – four co-op credits and others in world geography and social justice – and will return in mid-May in time to prepare for school exams. The van der Zalm family will return as well as it is the onset of the rainy season in Guatemala, which makes moving heavy equipment on mountain roads treacherous.

The entire group flew to Guatemala City in the Sierra Madre mountain range on the Pacific Coast. From there they went to the Jalapa Region in the Santa Maria mountains near the border with El Salvador to Campo Esperanza (Camp of Hope), which is the base camp for Wells of Hope.

While the students earn credits working on community projects, Ted will continue to drill wells for people who have always used surface water for drinking and other uses. In two previous drilling expeditions he drilled some 30 wells that have provided fresh clean potable water to some 30,000 people. This time he hopes to drill that many wells in three months.

Replaces Speedstar rig
The Foremost rig replaces his own Speedstar 30K air rotary drill he refurbished and used before selling it to a drilling company in Guatemala. While it was far superior to two cable rigs that he had used a year earlier, the Speedstar’s limits were tested drilling through the hard volcanic rock to its maximum depth of 1,200 feet in an area of the world where water is often found deeper, and where replacement parts and a service technician are almost non-existent.

The Wells of Hope rig was able to drill a well that can provide 250 gallons-per-minute of fresh water for the villagers of Guacamaya. Photo by Alex Hildebrand.


It had been used successfully for a couple of years, but was just too old and was breaking down and, as any well driller knows, repairs mean lost time. Downtime is previous time lost to the 48-year-old founder of Wells of Hope, who is driven by the World Health Organization statistic that “every eight seconds a child dies due to water related diseases.” In Ted’s view, not finding water for any reason is not an option. It is a disappointment to those who are in desperate need of fresh drinking water, and an even bigger personal disappointment.

“It was heartbreaking to have to leave a village with no well and no life-giving water because of the inability of the small rig,” he wrote in an appeal to the U.S. head office of the Knights of Columbus Roman Catholic Church men’s service club. It donated $100,000 toward the purchase of the Foremost DR-24, while a church in Niagara donated $130,000, which was 10 per cent of its own building fund drive. As of early February, he had raised some $700,000 with other money contributed by church organizations through special campaigns and bake sales, by corporations, and from individuals. 

A young Guacamayan villager and her dog watch the drilling from a distance. Photo by Alex Hildebrand.


‘God deserves the best’
“Our project is faith based. We asked ourselves ‘why are we trying to do the Lord’s work with used equipment? Doesn’t He deserve the best? ’” Ted said. That began the fundraising campaign for a new rig.

Founded in 2004, Wells of Hope is a non-denominational Christian mission that operates year-round from its base camp. Besides providing clean water to impoverished communities in Guatemala, it builds schools and hospitals and provides better health care and education though Niagara Warehouse of Hope, and improves agricultural practices such as irrigation through Project Harvest.

An article in Ground Water Canada magazine (September 2006) detailed Ted’s previous two trips and the obstacles he had to overcome: “You get a newfound sense of what it means to them when you see hundreds of people cheering when we get water,” he said at that time. 

Ted van der Zalm returned to Guatemala last month to continue his Wells of Hope mission to drill community water wells. Photo by Jim Meyers.


The Foremost DR-24 was shipped from where it was made in Calgary to New Orleans, Louisiana, to be on display at the (U.S.) National Ground Water Association’s convention and trade show. From there it was trucked to Houston, Texas, where it was when Ted left in February. From there it moved by boat to the Gulf of Mexico coast of Guatemala to be there shortly after he arrives in the country.

He is confident the greater capabilities of the new rig will overcome the problem of punching through the hard volcanic rock into gravel aquifers that had collapsed into the casings of the drilling equipment he had been using.

He chose the Foremost rig from all others because it can drill to the depth needed and its slotted casing screen will hold back the gravel so he can drill deeper into the aquifer. “The Cadillac idea is to have the pump in the heart of the water source,” the self-taught driller said.

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