Is “Utility Vault Mentality” Putting Your Water Supply in Danger and Costing You Money?

vaultMunicipalities historically had a mindset that putting backflow preventers in utility vaults is a best practice. However, the reality is that backflow preventers in vaults can be a confined space safety hazard when they’re being serviced, which can be both dangerous and expensive. Despite these dangers, in many parts of the country, they continue to be installed in vaults.

This “vault mentality” substantially increases a backflow cover’s size. The same thinking regarding clearances needed in the vault has to be applied to clearances needed for the backflow cover itself. Access panels provide an avenue to the backflow assembly for maintenance and testing. The clearances needed for a vault installation aren’t needed for a backflow cover installation. Changing this “vault mentality” saves hundreds or even thousands of dollars on an enclosure project.

Three initiatives are helping to bring this problem to the forefront, preventing future accidents and financial waste.

  1. Gwinnett County Georgia Water Tower Project – The county water commission is partnering with dozens of research groups, associations, and more, including Safe-T-Cover, to test alternative filtering and other systems. It provides design and learning opportunities to test backflow device implementation for civil engineers, training on the latest backflow methods to ensure the best installation scenarios to contractors, and training opportunities for sales representatives to learn about the latest backflow equipment and technology available for their customers. Safe-T-Cover donated several enclosures to the project’s three main test sites.

  2. Backflow Protection Regulations in the recently enacted Infrastructure law. $50 billion was allocated to water infrastructure, and $55 billion for clean drinking water. This includes replacing lead pipes and service lines nationwide. The law, enacted in November 2021, aims to upgrade water systems, clean up our water supply and make it safer, all as the result of the lead pipe water crisis in Michigan. 

We’ve met with elected officials this year to vocalize the importance of maintaining backflow protection as part of implementing this legislation.

  1. Safe-T-Cover’s Think Outside The Vault Initiative. We launched an educational effort to inform municipalities that there’s a safer, more cost-effective way to address backflow preventer installation. We highly recommend installing them outside and above ground in a backflow enclosure. Also, Safe-T-Cover engineers have written and designed numerous standard details and specifications that increase the cost-effectiveness of future water industry projects.

The fact is that installing backflow preventers and meters in utility vaults is an unnecessary liability for water jurisdictions and civil engineers. What’s more, we’re seeing these authorities recognize this fact and make changes to codes and laws to mandate above ground installation. The utility vault mentality is shifting, and if you haven’t made the switch yet, now is the time.

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Topics: vaults


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