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A Strong Foundation
A successful dewatering project has many stages. Make sure you always take these steps.

By David Giles

n the construction industry, the expression that

“a building is only as good as its foundation”
carries a great deal of validity.
Many factors are taken into consideration when
a building foundation is laid, and one of the most
important procedures deals with the effective control
of the ground water prior to its placement. This
process is known in the construction industry as
The process of dewatering a proposed foundation
excavation is no simple task. A dewatering contrac-
tor, or drilling contractor offering dewatering ser-
vices, must understand a well-orchestrated process
of detailed analysis and planning, and implementa-
tion must be followed in order for the project to be
successful. If any of a number of potential hazards,
such as misinterpretation of the subsurface soils, is
allowed to impede the process, severe problems can
occur during construction, translating into significant
cost overruns and delays. Therefore, it becomes
imperative that an organization taking responsibility
for dewatering maintain a high level of expertise and
skilled personnel to troubleshoot all potential haz-
ards in the effort to keep a project both on schedule
and within budget.

Why Do Many Dewatering

Projects Fail?
The lack of professionalism and competency of a
dewatering contractor, or drilling contractor offering
An overview of a deep well system installation in the Rio Grande riverbed in Albuquerque, New Mexico,

dewatering services, often leads to project cost over-

shows off the great size of the project.

runs and delays. They include:

conflict and distrust, especially when unforeseen Inferior installation procedures — When the
● Improper expectation setting — All too often, situations occur. Unfortunately, communications priority of a shortsighted dewatering/drilling

the dewatering/drilling contractor becomes are frequently an afterthought with many of contractor is focused on winning a bid by the
overly eager to obtain a contract for a project. those involved and are not treated as an essential lowest cost possible, every facet of the work
In an effort to win the bid, a less wise contractor component of an ongoing working relationship. phase conducted thereafter often becomes com-
will frequently set project expectations at a very promised. This becomes very apparent when
Poor documentation — Documentation also
high level and make a variety of promises of the the installation takes place. A contractor who is
plays an important role in a project’s success

results to be achieved, and work to be accom- focused on cutting corners to reduce costs will
among the various parties involved on the site
plished, without taking into consideration all of often take shortcuts that compromise construc-
when the work is ready to begin. When docu-
the possible factors and outcomes that can take tion quality and worker safety. These circum-
mentation is missing or inaccurate, misunder-
place at an excavation site requiring dewatering. stances often lead to delays and injuries that can
standings between the parties can ensue, leading
Given the complex nature of soil and ground significantly increase the cost of the project.
to disagreements and conflicts during the con-
water, it is always prudent to conduct as much
struction. Therefore, accurate documentation ● Limited adherence to safety standards — When
upfront research and analysis as possible to
becomes a working confirmation of site condi- the less-competent dewatering/drilling contractor
avoid unforeseen challenges that often take
tions and work to be performed for all parties reduces operating costs to their bare minimum,
place. Less prudent contractors who do not con-
involved to share. This ensures that everyone it leaves little room for the additional expense
duct or insist on this type of upfront analysis are
agrees on the extent of work to be completed of safety training for the personnel who are
therefore unable to set an appropriate level of
and that the project will proceed according to the involved in a project. Without a strict adherence
expectations with a project owner before the
specified plan. to safety standards, the opportunity for higher
installation begins.
Inadequate planning — The complexities costs and possible injury litigation becomes
● Poor communications — Effective and frequent increasingly possible.
involved with a dewatering system require an

communications between all of the parties

extensive amount of planning. When less wise Due to the complexities of the soil characteristics
involved (contractor, subcontractor, and project
dewatering/drilling contractors do not insist that a and ground water, being a successful dewatering/
owner) is essential in avoiding an atmosphere of
customer take the time to plan properly and con- drilling contractor requires a level of professionalism
duct a thorough subsurface investigation, or con- unmatched in any other specialty trade. Seven key
duct their own investigation, they address project phases can be identified in every successful dewater-
David Giles is the cofounder and president of TerraFirma

problems when they take place. Addressing prob- ing project.

Earth Technologies, a full-service dewatering contractor

lems at the last minute often adds valuable time

based in Houston, Texas, with locations in Arizona and

to the back end of the project, resulting in project

New Mexico. He has 20 years of experience as a drilling/

delays and costs to the project.

dewatering contractor. He may be reached at (281) 720-1212,

22/ June 2007 Water Well Journal

Because a dewatering/
drilling contractor can pro-
Investigation Phase
Before a dewatering project can begin, there are
vide several levels of ser-
a great number of unknown factors that must be
vices ranging from simple
determined, such as a detailed description of the
installation to a complete
subsurface soils, the permeability of the soil to be
turnkey contract/dewatering
dewatered, the water table elevation, as well as the
project (depending on the
limits of the proposed excavation (width, length, and
desires of the general con-
depth) just to name a few.
tractor), a single quote may
All of these factors must be determined in a
be prepared with several dif-
detailed investigation conducted prior to the start of
ferent options. By making
any construction work. A competent dewatering/
use of the experiences and
drilling contractor will investigate as many facets of
lessons learned within your
a project prior to the work beginning, backed up by
project portfolio, the oppor-
very accurate data that can create a high level of
tunity to deliver an accurate
confidence for the client. Approaching a dewatering
bid to the client is maximized.
problem with this level of detail is the best way to
While unforeseen events
achieve project success.
are always possible, always
Some of the procedures that are used in the
commit to communicate
A deep well installation takes place at the Bayport Container Facility in the
investigation phase include multiple test bores of the
and accurately document
Port of Houston in Texas.
site, lithological logging and gathering of soil sam-
any changes in the subsur-
ples, conducting sieve analysis of the soil, and possi-
face conditions or other
bly the design and execution of pump testing to
modifications that can affect
determine the physical parameters of the soil and
the design, no matter how
ground water beneath the site.
small, to ensure that your
During this investigation, it is helpful if the con-
organization is always able
tractor can take advantage of any prior dewatering
to fulfill a high level of
experiences. This includes using the data collected
customer satisfaction.
from similar projects with comparable soils to
enhance the overall plan. By performing the investi-
gation in this manner, the contractor is able to pro-
Installation and
vide the client with the highest level of confidence Performance Phase
that their desired results can be achieved. In the installation phase,
all elements and information
that have been collected
beforehand are gathered and
Design and Modeling Phase
A design and modeling phase may include both a
put into motion. An effec-
technical evaluation and a budgetary analysis. In the
tive installation requires
technical analysis, the results from the investigation
the availability of a highly
phase are used to create the “site model” represent-
trained and competent work-
ing a highly detailed report of a recommended dewa-
force that uses the latest
tering system, its anticipated effectiveness, and its
Pipe is installed in the deep well system on the Rio Grande river crossing
tools and installation tech-
limitations. When appropriate, a pumping test should
project in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
nologies available for site-
be performed and the latest ground water modeling
specific situations. The
software applied to determine if the desired design
successful dewatering/
parameters can be achieved with the necessary level
drilling contractor constantly evaluates the compo- higher operating costs that must be passed along to
of confidence. A budgetary analysis includes the
nents that are used in each project, such as well cas- the customer.
anticipated cost of the proposed dewatering plan.
ings, well screens, and filter packs, to ensure the best
Following these methods and procedures pro-
possible capability, durability, and performance out-
vides the dewatering/drilling contractor with the
System Maintenance
come that will generate the highest satisfaction for Once the dewatering system goes live, it must be
ability to set realistic project expectations with the
the client. monitored for any unforeseen complications, and
client. Besides creating an accurate procedural road
The successful contractor should also understand accurate records must be maintained throughout this
map and budget assessment, this information can
that time is an important factor in any implementation process to allow for the proper evaluation of the
also be used to determine if the anticipated project
plan. The level of speed, efficiency, and performance system’s effectiveness. Any throughput delays that
cannot be accomplished as specified.
that goes into a dewatering project plays a critical role result in a slower drawdown or water seepage result-
For example, if the analysis of the results indi-
in the final cost of the dewatering service. ing from an unanticipated stratified soil can lead to
cates that the water table can be depressed only so
One key factor that will allow the successful the possibility for cost overruns. Therefore, it is
far, or that the dewatering system’s effectiveness
contractor to ensure speed, accuracy, and quality imperative to pay attention to the monitoring, mea-
with the existing soil conditions will be limited,
involves designing a system that fully maximizes the suring, inspection, and analysis process to ensure
the contractor can immediately communicate these
total throughput of the ground water that is being that these situations are minimized.
issues with the client. In the event this takes place,
removed. The faster a system can remove the under- During this phase, conduct a thorough trouble-
the contractor will recommend to the client the
lying ground water, the lower the project’s operating shooting of the water table by measuring its depth
extent and degree of the changes that will be neces-
costs will be. before any pumps are turned on, and then again after
sary before any actual work can begin or before any
For example, by using higher efficiency compo- the systems have been started. As part of this same
final drawings are produced. In this way, the con-
nents such as “high volume” well screens, properly process, the system’s ground water disbursement rate
tractor establishes proper customer expectations and
designed filter packs, appropriately sized pumps, and the water table suppression rate are measured
avoids any last-minute surprises when the installa-
piping systems, and well development procedures and recorded, and any delays are evaluated.
tion is ready to begin.
that generate a higher water throughput, a higher When appropriate, the discharge water is tested
volume of water can be reached, resulting in a for contaminants, and strict procedures are followed
shorter amount of time for the project’s completion. for their proper treatment or disposal. Follow all
Preparation of the Estimate and Bid
Following the investigative and design and bud- This results in lower operating costs, and these sav- local, state, and federal regulations regarding the
getary phases of the project, a hard bid estimate is ings are passed on to the client. discharge of these waters. Strict adherence to all
prepared based on the project’s final design criteria Avoid taking shortcuts in an attempt to lower regulations is crucial in avoiding costly cleanup or
that will include all of the necessary labor, equipment, costs or using less expensive, inferior technologies expensive fines.
and materials required to implement the dewatering that ultimately result in decreased production and
plan. additional manpower resources, all of which result in dewatering/continues on page 24 Water Well Journal June 2007 23/
dewatering/from page 23 Permanent Dewatering and Relief
Maintaining accurate documentation also plays
an important role during this phase of the project
Well Systems Maintenance
In the event a permanent dewatering system is
by enhancing the communication process among all required, design and implement a well maintenance
the parties that are involved. System maintenance program that will prevent any excessive deteriora-
includes maintaining accurate documentation for the tion of the dewatering system. Additionally, provide
system evaluation and including any information professional assistance in record keeping and data
that identifies variations in the site conditions. In the evaluation to assure that a proper maintenance pro-
event a problem occurs, the dewatering/drilling con- gram is in place, and recommend modifications to
tractor is able to use their documentation and com- the maintenance program as necessary, preventing
municate their findings to the project owner and, if the need for costly reinstallations later on.
necessary, issue a detailed assessment and analysis In the case where an existing permanent dewa-
on how to resolve the identified problem quickly. tering or relief well system has been neglected,
Detailed documentation during the maintenance design and implement a rehabilitation program in
phase is essential to a successful dewatering project. place of a costly reinstallation.
A qualified dewatering/drilling contractor is just
System Removal as important to a construction project as the accu-
The majority of ground water systems are often racy of the architectural plans, the quality of the
temporary installations. The final procedures that are materials, and the talent of the workforce. With so
undertaken after the ground water extraction has been many factors that need to be considered when dewa-
completed and the foundation has been set include tering, it becomes imperative that the contractor
removing all dewatering systems and associated maintain the experience, resources, and technologies
equipment from the site. Prior to system removal, necessary to overcome any challenge that may arise
water level readings should be taken and the findings and provide a level of assurance that the project
reported. The system is then shut down while the timeline and budgetary goals will be met.
water table is allowed to return to a static level. Avoid making unrealistic promises that fre-
Regulatory requirements play an important part quently go unfulfilled. Establish an organization that
during the system removal stage. Local, state, and, is built on the premise that what is promised will be
The deep well system at Bayport Container Facility

in some cases, federal regulations stipulate very delivered on time, on budget, and with the highest
located in the Port of Houston in Texas was a big

strict guidelines for well abandonment. Abide by all quality of workmanship possible. This, coupled with
project that utilized dewatering.

local, state, and federal environmental standards so a dedication to professionalism, integrity, safety
that all water-bearing aquifers remain protected from adherence, effective communication, and detailed
any future potential contamination. Continually train documentation, ensures that your dewatering project
NGWA will be hosting the two-day course titled

your personnel in the latest regulations and instruc- will meet all of the specified plans and goals that
"Construction Dewatering and Ground Water Control:

tions to ensure the proper removal and abandonment have been established. WWJ
Design and Application" on October 8-10 in Dublin,

of a dewatering system, eliminating the opportunity

Ohio. Call Customer Service at (800) 551-7379 for

for future aquifer contamination.

more information.

24/ June 2007 Water Well Journal