Podcast: Peter McClennan and Australian Backflow Prevention

Welcome to the Safety Cover Podcast, where we take a little time to chat with the folks who make the water industry so very, very interesting. On this episode, we'll interview one of our international friends from around the globe, Peter McClennan, a backflow expert and code official from Australia.


Cary: What's your favorite song? I'm always mixing music and stuff with these, so I wanted to make sure I got some songs in there that you liked.

Peter: I really can't think of anything. If I could, there'd be some Australian ones that you may not know.

Cary: That's even better.

Peter: I Live in a Land Down Under, which was Midnight Oil. There was Working Class Man by Jimmy Barnes. I enjoy most types of music. I'm quite eclectic in that.

Cary: That's good.

Peter: I can be listening to harpsichord classical on my iPod sort of thing. Then next thing, I'll be listening to rap so I really enjoy all sorts of music.

Cary: There you go. I like it, I like it. I appreciate you coming on and taking your time to chat because we had had some good conversations about the differences in backflow programs in Australia where you are and the US here. You and I met one weekend when I was working for Apollo and my boss at the time, Pete Chapman. He's like, "Hey, what are you doing this weekend?" And I was like, "Well, I was planning on hanging out with my family." He's like, "Well, we've got some people coming in from Australia and New Zealand. You want to take them around this weekend?" I was like, "Wow, that sounds pretty cool." You guys came into town, I think you had about 15 or 20 people, wasn't it?

Peter: Probably not quite that many but it would have been eight or 10.

Cary: We went around, did the sights and sounds, and you guys were awesome. Plus, it was just fun to get a different point of view so really enjoyable.

Peter: Everyone appreciated it because the hospitality was great, and for you guys to take your time away from your family, that was just fantastic.

Cary: So how often, you came over pretty regularly, didn't you?

Peter: I used to travel probably three times a year to the states.

Cary: And so doing all the ABPA, the American Backflow Preventer Association.

Peter: Well, at that stage, I was president of the Backflow Prevention Association of Australia. It was information sharing in this country that had the same sort of interest to come across to the ABPA conference. And while we were there, we would then visit a couple of manufacturers. Over the time, we went to Hollow, we went to Zen, we went to Aims, we went to USC. We've been to a number of places.

Cary: Cool. Did anybody come to Australia? I know the guy from Midwest Gauges did, didn't he?

Peter: Yeah. Mike Luke came out. Mark Inman has been out once or twice.

Cary: Is that right?

Peter: Him and his wife have come out, and they've had a great time here, and we've looked after them. At the moment, in the last two years, everything's gone in a heap and we're just waiting till everything opens up again.

Cary: Exactly right. Maybe we can get Safety Cover to sponsor a trip over there, talk about enclosures.

Peter: Well, that's right. We've got the next backflow conference here now was going to be November. It's now been pushed out to March. Maybe things can travel then.

Cary: Yeah, absolutely. Real quickly, I know you don't like talking about COVID stuff, but I thought that was interesting how you guys just totally all of last year in 2020, you were just isolated. They just basically blocked the roads and you couldn't go in or out?

Peter: Pretty much so and it's still pretty much the case. We're similar to the states, to the USA, in so much that we're a Federation of states. We've only got seven of them, but it is still a Federation of states. Each state leader, we call them premiers, each state leader will identify through their health departments what is safe and what isn't. At the moment, we've probably got two- thirds of the Australian population at stay at home orders at the moment and they're the big cities. It's police tsunami at the borders, checking every car.

Cary: Wow.

Peter: Turning people around if they don't have the right permits, are not allowed in.

Cary: The last time I was talking to you, you had all the ships and stuff were just out there at sea. They couldn't come in and your buddy was trying to get a bicycle or something. It took 12 weeks to get it from Australia, and then took two weeks to get it from Italy or something like that.

Peter: New Zealand still, their major city orca has gone back into lockdown again. Our politicians here are starting to think that similar to a lot of people in the states, maybe we have to try living with this now. It's not going to go away. We're starting to see that New South Wales, which is our biggest state is, except for small areas, about to start opening up in small ways because they've decided they can't beat it. They've just got to live with it.

Cary: I think that's kind of what we're all facing. It's just going to be here. You got to figure out how to live with it and get around it.

Peter: And stay safe as much as you can, and get the injections and the pop upside, and the boosters. Just if you get it, hopefully it's not that bad.

Cary: Well, what I wanted to talk to you about backflow. Tell me a little bit about how backflow's enforced in Australia and maybe some little differences between what we're used to here in the United States.

Peter: We have a national plumbing code. That national plumbing code is developed by a government agency, which is responsible for bringing all the states together and developing a code. That plumbing code has a section with it, which is backflow prevention across agent and crop. That plumbing code then is called up into legislation by each of their states, as their plumbing requirements in those states. There's the national code. Then we have an Australian standard, and an Australian New Zealand standard, which is drinking water or water supply. It looks after a section on backflow and cross-connection with problems as well. The standard works in line with the code. The code is then called up by the state and territory legislations, and it becomes law across Australia.

Cary: Okay. So pretty complicated. Some bureaucracy there.

Peter: There is. Particularly, once it then starts filtering down to the local counties and those sorts of places because people interpret things differently.

Cary: Of course. Not unlike here. [crosstalk 00:07:58]

Peter: It depends on how it would-

Cary: Same thing.

Peter: Very much, very similar.

Cary: A guy on this side of the road has a different backflow program from the guy on the other side of the road. It's good to see that it's like that everywhere. As far as double-checks, and RPZs and things like that, there's little, slight differences. I remember at Apollo, we had that particular valve that you guys use. It was a little different than what we had.

Peter: The main difference with the brass funnel although the cast, brass ones is we had a different material requirement to America. There had to be a dezincification resistant bronze used so that was different. Also, our threads are different, of course. Anything that had threads on it was the British standard thread. The products themselves are pretty much the same. We don't have anything different to America. We're right from the hose, big vacuum breaker, to the AVB, to the double detectors, and those sorts of things, everything is pretty much the same. Very similar.

Cary: I got ya, I got ya. RPZs still have five pound first spring, one pound second spring, and the relief valve?

Peter: Yep. The only thing is we haven't followed the American mind on the type two double detector. That has not had any following here yet. It might come in time, but at the moment we still use the original, double bypass.

Cary: All right.

Peter: Well, up until recently, our code was different on the hazard ratings. We've got three levels of hazard; high, medium, and low, and we still have those. But the way the devices were relegated into those areas was different, like an AVB and a pressure vacuum breaker, and a spill proof vacuum breaker were always considered a low hazard. Now, this year with the introduction of the new Australian standard, or the updated standard, those devices have now been elevated in line with the manufacturer's recommendations. They've now gone up to as high hazard protection. That's very different, in so much that their market's not used to that. The only thing you could use before was an RP, or a break tank of some kind. Now, they're able to use a PVB or an AVB for high hazard protection, and it's creating a little confusion.

Cary: That's just what we need is more confusion in the backflow world. What, are you still on the code committee?

Peter: Yes, yes.

Cary: Explain exactly what that is.

Peter: That body that I was talking about that works with the state and territory governments to write the codes, I worked for that body. It's a federal government body. Their role is to be the voice of the state and territory governments in that respect. It's workshopping, it's talking to them about their issues and that sort of stuff. Then when the code, there's a number of us in the plumbing team. When that code is developed, it then goes back around them for sign off and changes. Sometimes, as I'm sure it is in the states, probably even worse, it's tried like herding cats at times.

Cary: Definitely because there's a thousand opinions you got to sift through and pick the best ones.

Peter: It's pretty good in a lot of cases because a lot of people understand that the protection of drinking water is really important.

Cary: Right.

Peter: Just how they do it varies in their minds in some cases, but at the bottom line, that's what they're there for. There is good, strong support Australia wide for the backflow protection.

Cary: Yeah. That's good to know you're on the front lines up there. We're going to have guys like you in there, speaking for the people.

Peter: That's right. That's why I joined. I've always been in sales and that sort of stuff. I thought, well, this way I can do something that's good for the country. I can do something that's good for the nation. Help them develop their code, use my experience and knowledge to help that, and so I'm enjoying it.

Cary: Absolutely. That's fantastic. I think as long as we all keep the fact that we're protecting the drinking water, as long as everybody keeps that in mind, we'll probably make great strides. All right. Well, I sure appreciate your time, Peter. Hopefully, we can get together soon. Hopefully, next year we can get some stuff going on. I don't know if you'll be traveling over here.

Peter: Well, at this stage, I'd already put the ABPA in Las Vegas in my calendar for, I think, it's the same time as my wedding anniversary in May. I just suggested to do my wife, we might go to Las Vegas.

Cary: Perfect. Perfect trip there. That's awesome.

Peter: Hey, great talking to you.

Cary: Appreciate your time.

Peter: Take care.

Cary: Talk to you later.

Peter: Good luck. See you.

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