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One big Alberta family

The Alberta Water Well Drilling Association convention and trade show provided a welcome

June 16, 2015  By Colleen Cross

My first visit to Alberta is burned like the Prairie sun into my memory, not because of the wide-open, picturesque views, but because of its people.

My first visit to Alberta is burned like the Prairie sun into my memory, not because of the wide-open, picturesque views, but because of its people.

Carol Larson, left, has been managing the AWWDA show for the last 23 years. This year daughter Sheena cheerfully pitched in to help with registrations.




For two days in April, I was surrounded by some of the friendliest strangers I’d ever met.

From April 23 to 25 at the Sheraton Red Deer conference centre, the 58th annual Alberta Water Well Drilling Association’s conference and trade show brought together members of the water well drilling industry from Edmonton, Calgary, surrounding Alberta towns, Saskatchewan and beyond to swap stories, get up to speed on changes within the industry and tackle issues of common concern.

At the opening meet-and-greet, more than a few in the drilling business told me area well drillers generally like to help each other out. If one driller is too busy to do a job, especially if it falls near someone else’s patch, they happily refer a client to a fellow driller. “We’re all family,” I heard echoed throughout the show.

I saw more evidence of camaraderie as multiple family members joined in the informal social, which will be remembered by many for the giant TV screen – a truly inspired last-minute addition brought in by organizer Carol Larson to accommodate those watching the Flames play the Canucks in the playoffs.

For the record, Larson, a die-hard fan of the eliminated Edmonton Oilers, was backing the winning Canucks.

Thirteen-year-old Wheels for Wells fundraiser Alex Weber encouraged a lunch crowd to join or support his Wheels for Wells campaign, which aims to make clean water available worldwide. 


Friday’s program opened with a morning-long trade show featuring 35 exhibitors, including pump manufacturers, drill-bit machiners, insurance companies, concrete manufacturers and custom flatbed manufacturers. Holding up one end of the show and drawing a steady crowd of admirers were two drill rigs – a Foremost DR-24 and an Atlas Copco TH60 ¬– and a Glover custom-made water truck. The last, a 2012 International 7400, sported a MaxxForce 9 engine and featured a 220-horsepower, 950-pound-torque Allison 2000 five-speed transmission.

Over lunch, attendees and exhibitors heard an inspiring speech from a 13-year-old cyclist and fundraiser who impressed everyone as wise beyond his years. Alex Weber managed to entertain his audience during a talk about a very serious subject. Weber’s goal is to see clean water available worldwide. To raise money for the cause he has completed several bicycle rides as part of his Wheels for Wells campaign over the last four years.

Last year he and a friend biked from Vancouver to Calgary, drinking water from only natural sources along the way and hoping to make the point that in Canada we too often take clean water for granted.

Weber, who donates any funds raised to World Vision’s Clean Water program, with the help of 120 riders has so far generated $27,000. He encouraged the water well industry to donate to or get involved in rides to help secure clean water for the world’s population. “I think it’s a realistic goal,” he said, “and I know it can be done.”

Taking his talk to heart, attendees wasted no time filling up a donation jar for the young man’s cause.

Weber is gearing up for rides out of far-flung Taiwan and Tanzania in 2016.

Afternoon technical sessions covered well remediation, pump technology and how to go about filing a lien for unpaid work.

Mike Kleespies, regional manager for CETCO Drilling Products, explored well rehabilitation. Kleespies said maintaining a well is like maintaining a car: you can extend its life through proper care. Rehabilitating a well – which can potentially result in 100 per cent restoration of the well – costs 10 to 20 per cent of what a new well would cost. It can also save on energy costs and labour, and help carry your business through the slow season.

Two gleaming drill rigs – a Foremost DR-24 and an Atlas Copco TH60 – hold up one end of the Alberta Water Well Drilling Association trade show floor.   
Longtime and honorary association member Jerry Topilka (centre) sizes up his chances at Vegas Night.   
 Former students David Kassian, Justin Lepper and Jordan Lepper visit instructor John Larson at the RDC booth.


He outlined various issues, including biofouling, pump damage and a buildup of silt, sand and minerals. Correcting the problem involves three steps: identifying a problem, determining the blockage and finding a solution. Telltale signs of mineral encrustation include calcium and magnesium levels of above 400 ppm.

Fraser Porter of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, who administers the Alberta Water Well Information Database, shared with members tips on how to make good use of their cellphones – along with a few laughs as people less familiar with their phone’s features grappled with the technology. Porter went over how to pinpoint the location of a well within a few feet by entering co-ordinates into Google Maps. When you’ve found the exact location after zooming in using the browse function, she said, hold your finger on the spot until in drops a pin, then email the co-ordinates to yourself.

Terrance Meyers, a lawyer with Ahlstrom Wright Oliver & Cooper LLP, told drillers how to go about filing a lien for unpaid work. Awareness of the tight deadlines involved is important, Meyers said.

Craig Dixon of Franklin Electric shared some of the features of SubDrive family of constant pressure drives featuring the NEMA 3R (type 3) enclosure, launched last summer. Dixon described some advantages of variable frequency drive pumps: speed control, matching of pump output to demand, potential energy savings and programmable protection during power surges.

On Friday night, while the snow flew outside in a surprising end to an unusually mild winter, members had a chance to visit with colleagues over a delicious buffet dinner. Many hit the poker, blackjack and roulette tables of Vegas Night afterward to have some fun while trying not to lose their shirts.

As part of Saturday morning technical sessions, attendees heard from ground water policy advisor Jennifer MacPherson about proposed changes to the Alberta Water Act regulations. The ministry is seeking input from well drillers on the proposed changes, MacPherson said, and intends to incorporate their comments into an upcoming draft version. The intent is not to be prescriptive in laying down rules but to establish best practices for the industry. Topics ranged from grouting and sealing to timelines on online well record submissions.

Several members let their names stand for board positions during the second session of the association’s annual general meeting.

To encourage showgoers to take advantage of the education program, Larson, president Kelly Topilka and other board members handed out tickets during each session that could be added to a draw for a $100 bill at that session’s end, a strategy that resulted in good attendance and some very happy showgoers.

Attendance held steady this year, according to Larson, who has managed the show for the past 23 years.

“It’s a nice size of show,” said Kyla Melnyk, who works as a geo-environmental technologist at Amec. Melnyk added that she enjoyed the congenial atmosphere of the annual Alberta event.

She may have put her finger on an element that made this show so friendly and a place where talk of the economy and impending historic provincial election took a back seat to catching up with friends and colleagues who are like family.

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