Wellntel Aims to Sprout Groundwater Info Market With Sonar Device

6/26/14Follow @XconomyWI

Groundwater is a precious resource. It irrigates vast fields of vegetables in California and wheat in Kansas. It supplies water to a third of U.S. cities—and to 90 percent of people who aren’t on systems run by municipalities or private water companies.

It’s also increasingly coming under threat. Worries are growing in some areas that we’re using too much of it. And at the same time, a growing population and the droughts expected with climate change will require taking more water from underground reserves—making the water that remains even more important. “One of the big concerns is as the planet continues to heat up and drought becomes more frequent, groundwater becomes our water resource insurance,” says Norm Miller, a geography professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

Given how valuable groundwater is, one would think that well owners—and the nation in general—would be keeping close tabs on water levels. Surprisingly, that’s not the case. Even as well monitoring becomes “more and more important” to society, as Miller says, most of the data about changes in groundwater levels still come from infrequent inspections by public agencies at different locations using tape measures lowered down holes in the ground.

Wellntel co-foundersBut that may be about to change. A Milwaukee-area startup, Wellntel, is aiming to bring groundwater monitoring into the Internet Age. The company has developed a battery-powered device that sits on top of a well and tracks its water level using sonar technology, then wirelessly transmits that information to the cloud. The initial target customers for co-founders Marian Singer and Nick Hayes (pictured above) are homeowners and farmers, particularly those located in regions facing water shortages, like California and Texas, or in isolated pockets of declining clean water supplies, like Waukesha, WI, just 20 miles west of Lake Michigan.

The technology’s most immediate tangible benefit is enabling well owners to avoid the expense and headache of water pump failures by keeping a closer eye on the water table—the top line of the underground layer completely saturated with water. About 44 million Americans depend on private well water, Wellntel says, and unanticipated equipment repairs cost well owners $1.2 billion each year.

“The old way of finding out that you had a problem with the water table is your pump would run dry and break,” Hayes says. With Wellntel’s device, well owners are alerted before the water level drops to a danger point. “The first time that you don’t have a catastrophic failure, the device pays for itself,” Hayes says.

Yet Wellntel’s ambitions go far beyond just making a clever water level sensor. The company hopes to invent a whole new water information business. If the startup can sell and deploy enough of its devices to generate a critical mass of data, it plans to add another set of customers, who would buy … Next Page »

Jeff Engel is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @XconomyWI

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