Expert Says Backflow Prevention Can't Be Ignored Anymore

As president of the American Backflow Prevention Association, Tim Brown faces many challenges. The biggest one may be that the public often doesn’t understand the hidden but important role of backflow preventers.

The fact is, backflow prevention keeps our drinking water safe. Water districts must stay up to date on regulations and enforce them. This includes annual testing of backflow preventers and working closely with plumbers and engineers.

More people are becoming aware of the critical role cross-connection control programs and backflow preventers play. But Brown says it’s not enough. He discusses what it will take to get people to understand how they protect public water systems. 


Growing Number of Cross-Connection Programs

Cross-connection programs vary widely across the country because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows states to establish regulations. However, Brown predicts that the number of backflow prevention programs will continue to grow in the years ahead.

Brown compares the need for backflow assembly testing to improving safety at a hazardous intersection. When a community recognizes that a lot of accidents occur at a dangerous intersection, officials act.

Installing a traffic signal typically reduces the number of accidents, especially broadside collisions. When intersections become safer, communities don’t remove signals. They know better. The traffic light proves its worth by improving safety and traffic flow.

Ongoing backflow prevention programs are similar to installing a traffic signal at a hazardous intersection. They greatly reduce the potential for contamination of public water supplies. They ensure safe drinking water and protect public health.

Utah is already taking steps to strengthen its program. Water systems serving 500 or more people are being held accountable. They must have a dedicated person knowledgeable about its cross-connection program by 2020.

Communities Debate Irrigation Testing

Many states downplay the need for regular testing of backflow assemblies. In these states, testing irrigation systems may receive low priority.

Brown says this is dangerous because irrigation systems often include fertilizers and pesticides.

Backflow prevention devices stop contaminated water from being drawn back into the main public water supply. They’re needed to keep the water distribution system safe.

Watch for Irrigation Testing Legislation

Brown encourages ABPA members to gather additional information to present in support of clean water supplies throughout the country.

On occasion, leaders respond to convincing arguments about the value of strong backflow prevention regulations. Michigan’s governor vetoed a bill that would have relaxed rules for testing of lawn irrigation systems.

Educate Homeowners

Opponents of lawn irrigation testing indicate they don’t wish to burden homeowners with the expense.

However, Brown believes most homeowners understand the importance of the testing once it’s clearly explained to them. Then they may recognize that their irrigation system could potentially contaminate their neighbor’s water or even the main water line. It’s better to double check than to deal with an undesirable reversal.

The life expectancy of a backflow preventer is five to 10 years. Brown predicts more communities will require additional coverage for the water line running from the street into homes.

Unlike meters for businesses or industries, the residential backflow preventer would not require testing. It would be located near the water meter, in an outdoor enclosure, or just inside the home. It’s possible that the water meter and backflow preventer would be included in one unit.

Who Will do the Testing?

Brown predicts another change that will impact the backflow prevention industry is fewer young people seeking training in HVAC, plumbing and backflow prevention.

If there’s a shortage of backflow prevention testers, it may be difficult for clients to fulfill inspection requirements.

The ABPA board realizes members need to talk with high school students. They hope to explain the value of learning skilled trades, such as plumbing and becoming an apprentice.

Use Education To Facilitate Progress

Education can help solve compliance and recruitment issues.

“Our industry helps protect the quality of potable water supplies,” Brown said. “We have to develop an elevator speech. We can use it to explain what we do without having people’s eyes glaze over in 10 or 15 seconds.”

On the local level, Brown promotes education in his position as the environmental compliance specialist for the Albemarle County Services Authority in Charlottesville, Va.

His department continually explains the need for backflow prevention to customers. Personnel monitor 4,000 approved backflow prevention assemblies a year.

Put the Spotlight on Backflow Prevention

Brown says backflow prevention requires more public attention. Ten years ago, he didn’t know much about the industry until he became an environmental compliance specialist.

“Now I understand that backflow preventers provide a very important piece of protection for potable water supplies,” he said.

Equally as important as understanding the role of backflow prevention in your community is knowing the safest place to install a backflow preventer. An above-ground, aluminum, outdoor enclosure is the safest and most reliable place for a backflow prevention assembly. Vaults flood and pose a threat to your employees. And leaving a backflow preventer exposed makes it a target for thieves and weather.

Learn more about the importance of backflow prevention and how to avoid unnecessary risks. Download our guide “Trends in Backflow Prevention.” This free guide is a great resource for engineers and executives responsible for commercial water supply and infrastructure.

Best Practices in Backflow Prevention & Protection

Leslie Blaize, Certified Professional Services Marketer and owner of Blaize Communications, specializes in writing about the Architecture/Engineering/Construction industry. See


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