Making Bad Water Good
By Denise M. Roberts
(Editor’s note: This article is a first-person account of Good Water Company derived from an interview with geologist Stephen Wiman, PhD, owner of Good Water Company).
Good Water Company
933 Baca St.
Santa Fe, NM 87505
Tel: (505) 471-9036
Fax: (505) 471-8068
Employees: nine and a part-time bookkeeper
Vehicles: six (including two hybrids)
Good Water Company was started twenty years ago and is the oldest independent water treatment specialist in northern New Mexico. I purchased the business three and a half years ago from the founder and it is now a Subchapter S corporation.
Changing career paths
With a technical background and a 30-year working career in science (geology), I am particularly interested in the technical aspects of water treatment. In my former career, I was around some very cutting edge geochemistry work and I must say that the process of educating myself about water has had a much steeper learning curve than I had anticipated.
I took an early retirement package from international oil and gas exploration for a major company. Although I had previously lived in Indonesian Borneo, my most recent assignment was living in Houston, traveling monthly to Southeast Asia and it was time for a change.
After 30 years as a visitor to Santa Fe, it seemed right to buy a home even if just to enter the real estate market. At the same time a work offer in Malaysia was presented, for a full-time contract position.
While putting some final touches on the house, I started working with a business broker who was representing the sale of Good Water Company. It was of great interest because of the similarities to my previous endeavors, particularly with respect to chemistry, exploration and drilling.
It was clear that the business itself needed a lot of work and a significant amount of investment, but the risk was worth the potential reward and I was officially retired from the oil business.
Santa Fe’s main sources of water supply are surface water (rainwater and snowmelt stored in reservoirs), ground water from a city well field and the Buckman well field, located near the Rio Grande and directly across the river from Los Alamos National Laboratories. The city recently began construction of The Buckman Direct Diversion Project, which will take water directly from the Rio Grande and transport it to the city for processing and distribution.
Our service area ranges from Albuquerque to the southwest, as far north as the Colorado border, as far east as Las Vegas, New Mexico, and as far west as Los Alamos. It is a high desert area at 7,000 feet above sea level with average of 13 inches of precipitation annually.
Santa Fe is a relatively affluent community and for many of our customers, their homes here are not their primary residences. They are well educated and want real information about how systems work and many want the greenest technologies available.
Residents have an acute awareness of both water supply and water quantity issues and are known for their conservation efforts. With an average consumption rate of 101 gallons per day per person, Santa Fe ranks as one of the lowest per-capita water use cities in the U.S.
Radionuclides (uranium and to a lesser extent, radium) are a big problem in this area. I spend a lot of time educating the public that uranium in the water is a naturally occurring byproduct from the weathering of granitic rocks in the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains. For most people, the first association that comes to mind at the mention of radionuclides is our (and the city well field’s) proximity to Los Alamos National Laboratories.
Whole-house RO installation
Products and services
Good Water Company is a science-based, rather than a sales-based, water purification company. We do not use scare tactics, cold calling, bottle drops, soap premiums or any of the more conventional methods of water treatment equipment sales. We do very little on-site water testing and we require a recent (less than one year old) comprehensive lab test before installing equipment on a well. We do not offer system financing and, frankly, we have had very few calls for financing. We think that our best entry into the lower end market is to offer the lower-priced, anti-scalant systems if applicable.
A large percentage of our business comes from referrals. We will be putting increasingly more emphasis on ‘green’ technology, which in turn stimulates our overall business because sustainable systems are not always an option.
As a Hague Quality Water dealer, we are pleased to offer the WaterMAX® to clients who want softened water and appreciate its water-conserving performance and low salt usage. We use potassium chloride almost exclusively.
We also offer a salt-free anti-scalant system using Melstream’s Spectrosoft media and we are very careful to point out that salt-free, non-backwashing systems may not be appropriate in some cases because of water chemistry or for clients who like the feel of softened water. Salt-free systems are particularly appealing to qualified residents who want to save water and not deal with the physical handling of salt or be responsible for brine discharge.
8,300 gallon rainwater harvesting cistern
We do a significant, and growing, business in NSF-certified under-counter RO systems for customers who are concerned about drinking water quality and in whole-house RO systems for well water customers whose water quality requires such treatment. TDS levels over 3,000 mg/L are quite common and actually geologically predictable by geographic areas.
We have been successful lately in treating iron, manganese and H2S with the Water D.O.G. (dissolved oxygen generator). The SolmeteX ArsenXnp turnkey system for treating arsenic is well received and we look forward to introducing the similar product for uranium.
Moving to improve
We advertise in the local papers and on public radio. One of our most successful advertising campaigns has been to feature our restaurant customers in our ads with the byline that Good food and drink begin with Good Water. Advertising is gradually being reined in with a view toward working more closely with existing clients (2,500 active accounts) and improving our website.
Water testing bar
We are constantly trying to improve both our customer service and 24/7 service department. We take great pride in installing the equipment we sell; Good Water does not hire contract installers. We also take responsibility for our shortcomings and endeavor to fix things immediately. Everyone functions as a de facto receptionist and salesman; we make it almost impossible to reach a recorded message during normal business hours.
Due to unhappiness with our previous leased location, my life partner, Linda Paisley, became my business partner and we purchased a more centrally located building and remodeled it over the course of two years. Real estate in Santa Fe is very pricey, and so is remodeling. I must say that the remodeling process was quite a distraction from the business. Completion of the building and the move into new quarters coincided almost exactly with the recent downturn of the economy this past fall.
We occupy half the new building, which was remodeled as sustainably as could possibly be afforded. One of the most important attributes is our plumbed showroom, where clients can see the systems we offer as well as hear them in operation. We also built Santa Fe’s first water tasting bar and offer sampling of seven different alternatives to bottled water. That bar itself is topped by IceStone, which is a product made from recycled glass and concrete.
Another feature incorporated in our remodeling project is rooftop rainwater harvesting. All twelve downspouts from the new galvanized roof are conveyed to an 8,400-gallon cistern and used for onsite irrigation.
The future is here now. One of my missions is to share what I am learning with the community. I write a monthly water quality column for the local newspaper and I have given a number of talks around the community. I am also involved in two small business technical programs sponsored by Sandia Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratories, with an emphasis on mapping and treating radionuclide contaminants Recently I contributed an invited paper for the 2009 Sustainable Santa Fe Guide. The article was about ‘green’ water purification technology and when it is, and is not, applicable.
In some parts of this country, particularly the arid Southwest and California, there is a new awareness of water…its scarcity and its quality. We will see a thirst for people to conserve water and avoid, wherever possible, purchasing bottled water because of the lax regulation standards and carbon footprint and recycling issues associated with the product.
Rainwater harvesting is becoming more common and may eventually be required in the city, as it is in the county, for all structures larger than 2,500 square feet. We believe strongly in this technology and we also believe that treating catchment water is a future business opportunity. Heightened exposure to this technology, which I have received since my appointment to the City of Santa Fe Water Conservation Committee, has elevated my awareness to its possibilities.
Customers will seek out the most environmentally friendly solutions to water purification issues. Carrying a wide range of sustainable technologies is a great way to invite people into the future. But in some cases, customers will find that some of the oldest technologies may be the best suited to meet their objectives.