Backflow Valve Status
Homeowners who pump their lawn water from a pond or lake are currently required by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to install expensive backflow valves because of the "potential" to backflow chemicals into the drinking water supply.
However, backflow valves are an expensive solution (supported by the plumbing industry) to a problem that simply doesn't exist. No one has ever died in the state of Florida from a residential backflow contamination incident. In fact, no one has ever even gotten sick in Hillsborough County from a backflow contamination incident.
Some states exempt all residential customers from backflow prevention devices. These states include Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, Utah and Wyoming. The Wyoming rule is very succinct as to why:
"The prevention of one death in 143 years at a cost of $1.3 billion dollars does not justify the mandatory installation of back flow devices on residential and domestic non-residential services."
The government has acknowledged the contents of this website as being correct. Cindy Morris, the Environmental Administrator for the Hillsborough County Health Department, in an internal email wrote: "His web site is pretty accurate." Ta-Daaa!
W.C. Fields did not drink water because of what fish do in it.
In case a plumber, irrigation contractor, a former owner or even you accidentally cross-connected your irrigation system to your drinking water supply, you too may be drinking that sort of water.
So, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Florida Dep't of Environmental Protection and your county have had recommendations, rules and ordinances in place for several years which requires the separation of your drinking water from your irrigation system, which makes sense.
But, the rules and ordinances then go way beyond that and require that an expensive backflow prevention device ($450 to $700) be installed on each and every Florida property that has its own pump for an irrigation system that uses water from a lake or well, i.e. any system that has pressure associated with it.
The bureaucratic concern is that sometime in the future, your irrigation system may accidentally be cross-connected to your drinking water so that you would be drinking lake or well water instead of city or county water. Plus, if your pump's pressure is greater than the county's pressure, your lake or well water could backfeed into the neighborhood's water lines unless you have a backflow valve. It doesn't matter that you can prove absolutely that your irrigation system is not cross-connected to your drinking water, you will be buying that valve!
And to add insult to injury, you will then have to pay for yearly inspections to insure the valve is still working.
The rules were promulgated by the Florida Department of Environment Protection (DEP). All counties are required to follow their rules.
The rules were adopted without considering the financial impact on Floridians, especially the elderly.
The rules were adopted without considering the valve's vulnerabilities. They're easy to steal. They're easy to tamper with. In fact, backflow valves provide direct and easy access to the water supply. Backflow valves in residential areas are a dream come true for terrorists, vandals and disgruntled people.
To view the Florida Dep't of Environmental Protection's Rule 62-555.360, click here.
To view the Hillsborough County backflow valve ordinance 03-6, click here.
To view the Ordinances for any county in Florida, click here.
The purpose of the ordinances and the DEP's rule is to keep polluted water (poor quality but not a health hazard) and contaminated water (a true health hazard) from backflowing into the neighborhood's drinking water. Polluted water is commonly associated with residential areas that have irrigation systems that use a lake or well and that have garden hoses - like a garden hose laying in a swimming pool, child's pool, laundry tub, bucket, puddle, etc. Contaminated water tends to be evil liquids associated with industrial operations and farms. Farmers seem to have most of the cross-connection problems, since all of their water systems - drinking, animal watering, water for mixing chemicals, irrigation, etc. - operate from a single well and are often jerry-rigged.
A backflow can be created by pressure on the home side, like from an irrigation lake or well pump, or by a drop in pressure on the street side, like from a broken water main or fire hydrant usage.
The backflow valve ordinance was not enforced for a number of years. And often, homeowners and irrigation contractors would not pull a permit because of the hassle and cost. Since "9/11", inspections and compliance has been stepped-up because someone who was bent on wrongdoing could easily backfeed lethal chemicals and bio-toxins into the drinking water system by way of the backflow valves - which pretty much sums-up why tens of thousands of them should not be installed in residential areas.
I live in a retirement community called Sun City Center. It is 20 miles south of Tampa in Hillsborough County. Some of the homes here have their own pumps connected to ponds and wells to get lawn irrigation water. Many of the pumps were installed by private contractors or by the home owners themselves. Recently, the County discovered that one of these homes had their lake water system tied into their drinking water supply. That means that if the pump was running and if its pumping pressure was greater than the County's water line pressure (60-75 psi) which is very unlikely and if there was no sprinkler head pressure loss, some well or pump water could flow back into the street line.
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Costs for Valves & Yearly Inspections:
The cost to install the valves keeps coming down. It now runs from $325 to $695 for a 3/4" valve. A bigger valve, like 1", is not better because it has bigger springs and produces a slight hesitation and costs more for parts to fix when it goes bad. The valves manufactured by Watts are the most common and the easiest to get repair parts for. The $325 price is from Coggins Plumbing (671-5931) if there are three or more in an area. The reports are that he is conscientious about his workmanship. Reedy Plumbing is charging around $450 to $475 which is about $100 too much.
The inspectors tend to charge whatever the traffic will bear. According to the state official that runs the inspection program, one woman was charged $485 for an inspection. So he now requires all new inspectors to sign an ethics agreement - which gives you a clue that inspectors aren't always on the up-and-up! And in our area, there is one inspector who always finds a high-percentage of valves to fail and then require part$. He is none of the following that are mentioned.
The cost of the annual inspections is coming down. For a list of all the backflow valve testers in our area, click here and select Hillsborough County. Note the 8th column over headed "Repair #". The valves often fail to pass simply because of debris in the pistons and O-rings. Those testers with a Repair # are permitted to take the valve apart and clean out any sand that has gotten into the O-rings and to replace parts. Because of Florida water and the heat, the valves break every three years and the parts kit is around $100 to fix them. So, if a cleaning doesn't fix the valve, you'll be on the hook for more money. When you call the different testers for a quote, in addition to the (1) basic test, find out what a (2) test-cleaning-test will cost, and the cost to (3) test - install a new parts kit - test will cost.
If you are a plumber or inspector with firm rates, I will be happy to post them here. If you are a resident with good or bad experiences with particular backflow plumbers or inspectors, let me know. Email me: email@example.com
Why Are There Cross-Connections?
There are three main reasons for cross-connections:
First is that the plumbing was installed by a person who left an always-open direct connection between the pump and the County's water supply. This would be manifest by irrigation heads that were always spouting water.
Second is that the system is relying on inadequate protection such as a single valve or other mechanical/electrical device such as a solenoid valve.
Third, and the most prevalent (95% according to the County), are known connections that allow the irrigation system to be fed by either County water or lake or well water. Here is how the typical Sun City Center plumbing system was laid out when it was first installed.
Then an owner, along the way, decided to save money (and save the County's water resources) by getting his water from a lake or well, so he had a pump installed. For flexibility, he added a couple of ball valves so that he could feed the irrigation system from the County's water or from his lake or well.
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Do-It-Yourself Check For Cross-Connections.
There are two ways that you can informally check for a cross-connected system.
The first is to simply walk around the outside of your home and look very carefully for the two ball valves located a foot or so apart.
If you find them, that means that your setup has the flexibility to irrigate from either the County water or from your lake or well. Unfortunately, as good as that concept sounds, it means you have a cross-connection capability. A ball valve is "on" when the handle is in line with the pipe, like the valve at the left. It is "off" when the handle is cross-ways to the pipe. If both valves are open, even a little bit, then the pump can force lake or well water back into the drinking water supply, provided the pump's pressure is greater than the County's pressure, which is 60 to 75 psi.
The second method is to turn-off the electricity to the pump. Then run your irrigation control through all the lawn zones. If any water comes out, it is County water and you've got a cross-connection!
These tests are not conclusive, but they're about what the licensed plumber will do for the 48-hour Notice of Violation.
Four Types of Backflow Valves:
There are a number of backflow prevention devices that keep cross-connected polluted water from one home from flowing backwards into the street line where it can contaminate the whole neighborhood. Here are the four main types used in residential areas.
A Vacuum Breaker should be attached to each outside faucet. More information.
A Pressure Vacuum Breaker is used when County water is used for irrigation. More information.
A Dual Check Valve is used when Reclaimed water is used for irrigation. More information.
The fourth type of backflow valve is a Reduced Pressure Zone Backflow Preventer Valve (RPZ Valve). This is what millions of us here in Florida will be forced to install, even though we have done nothing wrong!
Notice the four test nipples on top that terrorists, vandals and disgruntled people can use to inject lethal chemicals and bio-toxins into a neighborhood's drinking water supply.
This type of valve is supposed to be more dependable than a dual-check valve when it is working properly. Unfortunately, it has a number of moving parts, like springs and pistons, which can fail. Which is why they need a yearly inspection. It is mounted above the ground and right next to the water meter which is probably on the property line between your lawn and the sidewalk. This is what the $600 valves look like in front of a couple of recently built homes in Apollo Beach.
These valves are above ground and in an exposed location at the front of your lawn. They will probably burst when we get our next hard freeze. Thieves love the valves because they are easy to steal. They weigh 15 pounds. Their high brass and copper content will fetch from $22.50 (brass at $1.50 per lb.) to $39.30 (copper at $2.62 per lb.) at the scrap yard.
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