Women’s History Month
Highlighting women in the groundwater industry
Pamela K. Chaffee, PG
Water Well & Technical Support Program
Geology & Well Technology Unit/Bureau of Water
Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment
How did you enter the groundwater industry?
In 1979 and 1980, after graduating with my B.S. in geology at Wichita State University (WSU), there were a number of events that secured my interest and commitment to working in the groundwater industry:
- A series of articles on groundwater in Kansas, focusing mainly on the Ogallala Aquifer, were written by Jean Hays and published in the Wichita Eagle-Beacon
- I took the only groundwater course offered at WSU
- I got the opportunity to work as an intern in the summer of 1979 at the Equus Beds Groundwater Management District #2, northwest of Wichita, under Thomas C. Bell
- After working as a teaching assistant at WSU, I got the opportunity to work in the Geohydrology Section of the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) as a full-time research assistant in the summer of 1980; after transferring to the University of Kansas, I was able to continue working at the KGS.
What has been your proudest career achievement so far?
Being able to use our project research results at the KGS, to show that the minimum grout interval required for water supply wells in Kansas was insufficient to protect well water quality. We were able to work with the Water Well Program at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to revise these regulations and achieve passage in the Kansas Legislature in 1987 to increase the minimum required grout interval to meet local geology and better protect groundwater resources. I was also able to use the project results for my master’s thesis.
Who influenced you to dive deeper into a groundwater-related industry?
In addition to Jean Hays and Tom Bell, mentioned above, I would say Howard G. O’Connor, senior scientist at the KGS. As a research assistant, I began working with him on various water well issues. We then worked on a county study where we inventoried and sampled water wells, drilled test holes, and worked with local water well contractors, in order to report on the geology and groundwater resources of that county. From that work, we were able to spin off a study of water quality produced by private water wells of various age and construction in three small towns. It was this study that resulted in the revision of the minimum grout interval required in water supply wells in Kansas. Through him, I was introduced to, and became active in, the Kansas Water Well Association (later known as the Kansas Ground Water Association).
What do you hope for the future of groundwater, hydrogeology, and/or environmental science?
We must continue (to) look for and refine our efforts to more effectively use, reuse, and protect groundwater. We must better educate all users of groundwater of its value and pay a more appropriate price to use it.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female groundwater professionals?
All of the following are critical to understanding the realities of a situation involving geohydrology and environmental contamination: fieldwork, teamwork, analytical thinking, conducting research, asking questions, and evaluating all possibilities. Follow standard operating procedures, document everything, and be honest and respectful. Do your best in everything you do and take advantage of training and on-the-job learning opportunities.
To read more profiles of women in the groundwater industry, click here.