Unfortunately, cross connection control programs are NOT enforced on every municipal water system in the United States. Most estimates claim that less than 40 percent of the public water systems are protected by cross connection control programs of any kind. It’s disturbing that over 60 percent of our nation’s most precious natural resource is completely unprotected to contamination and backflow events.
Cross-connection control and backflow prevention remain a work in progress. The push to make them mandatory started more than 100 years ago. They’re both designed to protect public drinking water systems, irrigation systems and potable water supplies. And if you’re starting a cross-connection control program from scratch, it can be a daunting task. Just getting the approvals from state and local governments can take years to accomplish.
Let’s assume you already have government approval to ensure the protection of your water supply. Here are some of the best practices and proven keys to a successful and efficient Cross Connection Control (CCC) program:
- Public Education – Most of the water users in your system have no idea what backflow is or why they need to participate and/or pay for a CCC program. Public education is a vital component of a comprehensive and successful CCC program. Unfortunately, there are several examples of local and state municipalities that have actually banned CCC programs because they were not properly educated on the absolute necessity of the program and its associated costs. You must educate your customers because their participation in the program is crucial to its success.
- Hazard Surveys – Hazard surveys basically locate and document every possible cross-connection hazard in your water system and then a backflow prevention device or assembly is installed to prevent the possible cross connection. All backflow devices and assemblies must be identified (by serial #), documented and recorded by the water authority and kept in a filing or software program that is easy to search and find at any time. Remember, a backflow preventer installed below ground in a vault is not only a health hazard but can also create a cross connection.
- Periodic Inspection and Testing – Each testable backflow assembly in the water system must be tested and maintained on a REGULARLY SCHEDULED basis, enforced by the water authority. The best practice for testing and maintenance is ONCE PER YEAR to ensure proper operation of the valves. Annual testing also allows you to keep track of any changes in the water system.
- Reporting and Record Keeping – As each backflow preventer is tested and maintained within your water system, the results must be kept and tracked in some type of filing or software system. There are many efficient and cost-effective software systems available today to water authorities that assist in tracking all of the devices and assemblies, sending testing notices to water users, providing testing documents or mobile apps for entering test results, and tracking all maintenance records for each device or assembly in the system.
- Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement – Each of the above keys to a successful and efficient CCC program MUST be enforced at all times and for EVERY service within your water system. Any connection to your water system is a potential source of contamination, so there can be no exceptions to the rules of your CCC program. Any friendly exceptions, “grandfather” clauses, or conscious oversights can lead to the complete failure of your CCC program. Each service must comply with the backflow prevention requirements and regular testing and maintenance, or their service must be shut off.
In conclusion, the Cross Connection Control Best Practices Guide for the Massachusetts’ MassDEP says, “You are responsible for ensuring that the water you provide to customers meets all federal and state standards and that the quality is not compromised within your distribution system. Developing a comprehensive Cross-Connection Control and Backflow Prevention Program is one way to ensure the quality of your water and prevent potential contamination problems in your distribution system.”
To protect the public water supply and prevent contamination you need an effective cross-connection control program. If you’re considering developing a program in your community it’s important to remember that they’re not always the same. In Las Vegas, they may have different challenges than what you come across. But each time your water customers take a drink, it’s your duty to ensure their safety.
More and more cross-connection control programs are being developed, and more people are making a push for annual testing or other ways to protect water supplies and irrigation systems.
Now, we need to take the next step.
You should have your backflow prevention assembly installed inside an above-ground enclosure. It’s the safest and most cost-effective place to put it. Learn more in our guide "Trends in Backflow Preventer Valve Specification and Location." This valuable resource is designed to help engineers and designers with an up-to-date installation process.