Cross connection program: how cities abide by backflow regulations

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Backflow prevention has been in the news more in the last week than the entirety of 2016! Instead of haranguing the backflow issues that Corpus Christie is undergoing right now, I thought it’d be interesting to look into other water purveyors. More specifically, how water districts and health agencies administer their cross connection programs.

Who’s in Charge of your cross connection program?

When I started working with Syncta, I assumed all water purveyors would be regulated by the same entity for each city. I expected each city or town would have a cross connection program put into place and administered by the waste water agency. When I started contacting various towns and cities to see if they accepted electronic versions of backflow reports, I realized that the governmental body that performed backflow regulation varied a lot! From health authorities, to waste water plants, to vague unnamed water district entities there were many places for a backflow program to hide!

What do other water purveyors do to enforce EPA regulations?

Okay, so maybe the organization varies. However, do they vary by how regulations are enforced?

In a short answer, yes.

As we’ve mentioned in regards to Corpus Christie, there has been minimal follow-up since at least February, 2016. This is due to the city notifying non-compliant backflow devices, but not allowing plumbers to obtain a list due to a ruling from the attorney general. Since customers are well aware that the city does not enforce the regulations, they’re unlikely to have devices tested.

“It means only the city knows who is out of compliance, and we know the city isn’t enforcing compliance.”

-6 Investigates

Most cities require a certain amount of backflow devices to pass inspection. Typically, it’s around 80%. Most times, the government entity in charge of the cross connection program will mail reminders to everyone that has a documented backflow prevention device. This can vary anywhere from 30 to 120 days before the test is due. As the due dates come and go, the program then re-mails reminders to everyone who hasn’t sent in a passing backflow report, typically with a shut-off notice attached. It’s usually followed up with a second notice if it’s not abided. However, once the city reaches the percentage they deem appropriate, they often just stop sending the threatening letters.

The most appropriate thing for a city to do is turn the water off if a backflow device is non-compliant. This is likelier to happen if the cross connection device is located on a higher hazard area. Cities often turn a blind eye if the non-accounted for devices are residential or no-hazard devices.

Some cities go the route of fining, before sending shut-off notices. One example is the city of Croonston, MN. The city charges a $50 dollar fee to the monthly bill initially. A second notice increases to $100 per violation. This makes it a lot more appealing to have it tested!

From what I’ve seen, this is the rarity, not the norm. With the Corpus Christie debacle though, you can expect more jurisdictions to begin buckling down on the regulations. Stricter enforced regulations are, hopefully, on the rise.

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