Over the past several weeks, Corpus Christi’s water supply has been in the news more than the city would like. The truth is this: the backflow incident at the base of center of these news articles could likely have been avoided.
How often should a city require backflow testing?
Most recently, Corpus Christi has decided to discuss ordinances regulating how often backflow prevention devices should be tested. Currently, the city requires residential backflow devices to be tested every 3 years. Non-residential backflow devices are supposed to be tested annually.
“Reduced pressure principle backflow preventer assemblies, double check-valve assemblies, pressure vacuum breaker assemblies, reduced pressure detector fire protection backflow prevention assemblies, double check detector fire protection backflow prevention assemblies, and spill proof vacuum breakers that are not part of a residential irrigation system shall be tested […] at least annually.” -Corpus Christi Plumbing Codes
Even so, there’s confusion about whether the current regulations have been reliably enforced. The city no longer gives backflow testers a list of non-compliant backflow devices. This was mandated by the Texas Attorney General. The fear? That workers would use this for terror activities. Um. What?
“The information is kept confidential under the Texas Homeland Security Act, which makes “certain information related to terrorism confidential.” It’s confidential because releasing the location of private backflow preventers could give someone from the public enough information to contaminate the water supply.” -6 investigates
In many cities, residential backflow preventers are required to be tested yearly. High-hazard devices, such as those at car washes, industrial plants, or fire lines are often required to be tested quarterly. In Corpus Christi, even high hazard devices are only required to be tested annually.
Corpus Christi’s water quality control discussion
Today, the city council will be discussing implementing tougher regulations. In several weeks, the city council of Corpus Christi will meet to vote on the new plumbing ordinances. If the new ordinances pass, home owners and businesses alike will have annual backflow prevention tests. While the home and business owners are still responsible for having their devices tested, the city would potentially repair and charge the owners for any non-compliant devices.
Something could have been done earlier
One cause for alarm is that the city simply did not know if the asphalt plant’s chemical tank had any backflow devices installed.
A second cause for alarm? Corpus Christi had 3 reports of dirty water before they took any action. The first report was on December 1st. This was over 2 weeks before the water supply was shut down. The chemical that back-flowed into the city’s water was a mixture of Indulin and Hydrochloric Acid – and you don’t want to drink either of these, ever.
Now, the city is deciding what to do. Repercussions are not short-lived on this incident. Ordinances are likely to be changed in a few weeks. Several lawsuits have been filed against Valero. There is also talk of a potential class-action lawsuit representing all of the city’s residents. While there have been no reports of individuals being sickened from the exposure to the chemicals, things could have been addressed earlier. Establishing firm backflow prevention regulations, and enforcing them, is the first step to ensuring clean water in Corpus Christi.10