UP THE CREEK
April 1, 2004
Despite the date of this newsletter, it is not intended to be foolish. But it probably will be, nevertheless. Foolishness tends to break out around here, even when it’s not April 1st. The intent, however, is serious, so we’ll try to walk a straight line.
Your Association, along with all other drinking water systems, must cope with a generous amount of regulation by Federal and State agencies. Some rules seem unnecessary at first glance, but usually turn out to make sense, after learning of the events that brought them about. In this category is the cross connection rule.
The cross connection rule forbids the connection of a public water supply to any other water source in a manner that could allow backflow into the public system. The rule is in response to several horrific accidents where dangerous substances were sucked back into the public water supply from chemical factories, mortuaries, hospitals, and so forth. Disease outbreaks, poisonings, and deaths have resulted. It might seem that being a residential system, we would not be at great risk of such events. But, consider the following scenarios:
• An orchard farmer fills a sprayer tank with a hose draped over the edge of the fill hatch. The pesticide is already in the tank, so it will mix as it fills. As the tank fills, the end of the hose becomes submerged. A main water line break occurs, creating a suction. Pesticide enters the water system.
• Manure or chemical fertilizer is applied to a lawn that has an underground sprinkling system. The sprinklers are on when main line pressure is lost, creating suction. Manure tea or chemical soup enters the sprinkler heads, and flows into the water system.
• A gardener is using an aspirator jug on a garden hose; the jug is filled with aphid killer. As she sprinkles her roses, the fire department opens a nearby hydrant, sucking the contents of the jug back into the water system.
• A home has both a well and a USCDWUA tap. The homeowner knows that USCDWUA will experience outages from time to time, and is prepared. He has plumbed the well into his house, and has merely to open a valve to have uninterrupted water service in case of trouble on the public supply. But, he serves not only his own house, but the public supply itself from his well.
These examples can happen through lack of awareness, and a lack of protection against backflow. Usually, prevention of such accidents is simple. Maintain an air gap when filling a spray tank or any other container. Make sure your underground sprinkler system is protected by the appropriate backflow prevention device. Don’t use the aspirator jugs commonly sold in home and garden stores, unless you know your hose bib is protected by a backflow prevention device. Don’t plumb well water into the same system as USCDWUA water, even if isolated by a valve. Valves can leak. Does this mean well water is unsafe? Not necessarily, but we have no control over its quality, and it is illegal to allow it into our system.
Many of our water meters include backflow prevention devices to protect the system. As part of our cross connection control program (mandated by law) we will be retrofitting those meters which do not have such devices. We will also be reminding you periodically of the dangers and illegality of cross connections. Remember that even if our system is adequately protected against backflow from your home, it is still possible for your own plumbing to become contaminated from the kind of incidents described above. We all need to be aware.