ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
With the City of Hillsboro pouring about $3.1 million into water-plant improvements these days, the message is clear: water quality is a priority.
That message will be even more pronounced later this spring when the city begins to enforce a 25-year-old city ordinance in an effort to prevent the backflow of untreated water into the distribution system.
Ordinance No. 761, requiring the inspection of backflow and cross-connections, was passed in February 1981, but until now has been a voluntary matter in Hillsboro, according to Chad Stutzman, the city’s backflow inspector.
“Now, either people will comply or their water will be shut off until they do comply,” Stutzman said. “We’re making sure the water you drink is safe from pollutants entering through your sprinkler system or well.”
Cross connections-the link or channel connecting a source of pollution with a drinkable water supply-are the primary target for inspectors.
“We’re just trying to make sure we don’t have a health issue,” Stutzman said. “Although this has always been important, the City of Hillsboro really realizes the need to have a more aggressive program.”
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment requires the city to have an active inspection program, according to Stutzman.
“It’s not really a daily regulated program per se, like water quality. But they check to make sure we have a plan every year during our inspections.
“(The city) is just starting to get a little more aggressive,” Stutzman said. “The potential (for pollutants) is great and that’s why we have the policy, that’s why we have the ordinance and that’s why we have the consequences for not complying with the rules.”
While Stutzman directs the cross-connection control program, Ben Steketee of Hillsboro is one man to call for backflow testing and repairs.
“When I lived in California, I helped with a family business that did just this-backflow testing and repairs,” said Steketee, owner of Kansas Backflow Service. “The city and county of Los Angeles were very strict about their cross-connection control program.
“I had to get recertified in Kansas, so that allows me to test backflows anywhere in the state.”
Both Steketee and Stutzman completed 16 hours of initial training, plus an additional eight hours for recertification.
Steketee said the testing process is important.
“I’ll locate the device, make sure it has a water supply to it, hook up my gauges and make sure it’s functioning properly,” he said. “If it’s not functioning properly, necessary repairs or replacement along with a retest will need to be done.
“A backflow prevention device is a worst-case-scenario type of a fail safe,” he added. “In the unlikely event of a backflow phenomenon, it has to function correctly in that immediate instance. My check assures the device is functioning properly.”
Anyone who has a water hookup will be checked, according to Stutzman.
“But not everyone has a cross connection,” Steketee added.
People most likely to have the device are those with a lawn sprinkler system or locations that employ a boiler for heating.
“There are a lot of commercial applications that are probably going to be surprised that they need to have cross-connection controls,” Steketee said. “Virtually any business that has a waterline coming for any application other than drinking, flushing the toilet and washing hands is going to need some kind of protection.”
Many homeowners will be included, too.
“Actually, a lot of hydrants at your home aren’t approved hydrants, and that can back-siphon if you’re filling your kids’ pool or washing your dog,” Steketee said.
“Basically, if someone has a well that they use for irrigation, we want to make sure well water doesn’t get sucked back into the city’s water system,” Stutzman said.
“Even if you lay your hose down filling your kids’ swimming pool and there’s some sort of pressure differential in the system, we don’t want that stuff sucked back into our system.
“We’re checking for devices to prevent that.”
The city will begin the process by mailing a survey to all residents near the end of May or the beginning of June, asking if they have cross-connections, sprinkler systems, boilers or wells.
“Once the surveys are returned, we’ll know exactly who in town is on the list,” Stutzman said. “I’ll check every house and tell them whether they’re required to have a cross-connection device.”
If a device is needed, Steketee is one local option for additional assistance.
“Hopefully, people will be receptive of this because it really is for their own benefit,” Steketee said. “Chad will get in touch with the owner, who in turn will contact me.”
Kansas Backflow Services will charge $50, with a $10 hometown discount.
Other discounts for senior citizens and multiple devices may also apply.
“Just what device is necessary depends on the hazard and whether it’s back-siphonage or back-pressure that’s going to cause the backflow,” Steketee said.
He said an atmospheric vacuum breaker or pressure-type vacuum breaker is required to protect against a hazard class of irrigation or agricultural system; the two have different applications.
“A device that would protect against back pressure that virtually every hazard class is in is a reduced-pressure principle, or RP; a device that would protect against back pressure in lesser hazard classes of back siphonage is a double-check valve.”
Once the necessary repair is identified, Steketee said the actual cost to remedy the problem varies.
“The most typical device is a one-inch vacuum breaker and the cost of it runs around $150,” Steketee said. “And a rebuilt kit is around $30 but each application is on a case by case basis.”
Stutzman said detailed record keeping will enable him and affected residents of Hillsboro to know when their yearly checkup is needed.
“We’ll send them a notice each year that it’s time to get their devices checked,” he said. “Each system will need to be checked on an annual basis, and once every five years they’ll need to be rebuilt.
“I’ll keep track of those records for my customers,” Steketee said. “Whatever the anniversary date of the device is, that’s when the checkup will need to occur.
“However, most of the lawn irrigation systems will need to be checked in the spring because that’s when they’ll be turned on for the first team each season.”
Stutzman said residents will have between 30 and 60 days after notification to contact a licensed tester once their property has been identified as a risk.
“If someone contacts Ben and he hasn’t gotten around to checking their system because he’s backlogged, they’ll still be considered in compliance,” he said.
Steketee said his employer, Flaming’s Inc., is aware of his sideline business.
“They’re OK with it,” he said. “But I do want to stress that this is an independent business for just the backflow prevention issues. All of the work will be done in the evenings, on weekends and on my days off. I’ll be using all my own tools and my own truck.”
To contact Steketee, call 947-1568 (cell) or 947-3323 (home).
If anyone has questions about the process, they can call Hillsboro City Hall at 947-3162.
Steketee said the program is designed to protect the water supply for everyone in Hillsboro, but the program won’t be effective unless there’s 100 percent cooperation.
“It’s an all-or-nothing deal,” he said. “If you allow just one cross connection to exist without the necessary precautions, that can contaminate the entire system and then it’s all for naught.”
Backflow vs. siphonage
What’s the difference between backflow and siphonage?
Backflow is the reversed flow due to back pressure other than a siphon action. Any interconnected fluid system in which the pressure of one exceeds the pressure of the other may have flow from one to the other as result of the pressure differential.
Back-siphonage is the reversed flow from a tank or hilding container, where chemical/pollutants are drawn back through the pipe or hose and into the water supply.
Types of backflow preventers
1. Air gap: Where the hose or pipe is at least two times the diameter of the pipe away from the container it is filling. The air gap is the best way to stop backflow and back-siphonage.
2. Atmospheric vacuum breaker: The cheapest option to protect against back siphonage-but not back pressure. These are usually what is on your outside hose bib.
3. Pressure vacuum breaker: These protect against back siphonage but not back pressure. This is what you would use on a sprinkler system.
4. Double-check valve: This device protects against back pressure and back siphonage, but they are used on low-hazard areas such as food-processing steam kettles and apartment projects.
5. Reduced-pressure zone backflow preventer: This device provides the maximum protection against both types of backflow. This is the only device that should be used in a high-hazard situation where chemicals have the possibility to enter the public water supply.