Backflow plumbing prevention procedures in place; compliance required
From the smallest businesses to one of the biggest employers in the county, everyone will have to comply with a state regulation that requires an expensive – but many say necessary – backflow prevention mechanism on the plumbing.
The Nevada codes that required cross connection controls were adopted in February 1997.
The controls prevent materials inside a building from being sucked back into the water system in the event of a loss of water pressure, said Terri Svetich, a member of the Silver State Chapter of the American Backflow Prevention Association.
“Say a car hits a fire hydrant, or a water line breaks – that creates a loss in pressure in the water distribution system. When there is a loss of pressure, all the water wants to drain to that point, and it can actually create a vacuum. Normal flow of water can reverse and it can suck water from the customers’ service. If that customer has their faucet in a submerged vat of chemicals, those chemicals will be sucked into the water supply,” Svetich said.
She said the high-risk public facilities include hospitals, morgues and restaurants with soft drink machines.
“When you get soft drinks from a 7-Eleven (convenience store) or something and they have a carbonation pump with carbon dioxide, if the pump fails, the air goes back into the plumbing. If it comes into contact with copper piping, the carbon dioxide leaches copper out and it can make somebody sick almost instantaneously,” Svetich said.
She said the codes also call for the backflow prevention on residential homes, especially on irrigation systems, but admitted it is more difficult to mandate homeowners to install the devices.
“Most water purveyors have not been addressing residential customers. We could get more actively involved in that, but generally, it is looked at from a perspective of public education,” Svetich said.
All the area water suppliers said they have begun looking at which businesses need the backflow prevention.
Larry Clendenen, general manager of the Gardnerville Town Water Co., said about 50 percent of Gardnerville businesses have adequate backflow systems. He said all the high hazard businesses are in compliance or working toward it. In January, he plans to send letters to every business informing them of the requirement.
Sharla Keith, utilities supervisor of the Indian Hills General Improvement Water Treatment Plant, said there are only two apartment buildings the GID is working with to bring into compliance.
Greg Hill, public works coordinator for the town of Minden, said the community has targeted restaurants he knows need the backflow protection, but expects to survey all Minden businesses soon.
The Gardnerville Ranchos General Improvement District has sent letters to every business asking them to put the devices in place.
GRGID Manager Bob Spellberg said he was notified of the new laws by the State of Nevada Consumer Health Protection Services division.
“We guarantee the water is clean, but once it gets into a home, we don’t know how it is,” Spellberg said.
That is why the backflow prevention devices have to be testable, meaning, once a year, a certified plumber can test the water inside the backflow device to determine if there are contaminants.
Spellberg said the district began mailing out letters at the beginning of the year and also had a public hearing on the subject.
The district’s engineers, Lumos and Associates, sent out letters that ask people to have the device installed within 60 days.
Spellberg said there are some angry business people because the device, although very small in many cases, can cost anywhere from $1,200 to $8,000 to install.
n School district. DCSD Business services director Rick Kester said the district hired Anderson Engineering to complete a survey of the schools and determine what has to be done at each school.
“We hired them to do an analysis because the issue of the connection at the mains is just one of the issues. Under Nevada codes, there are also other requirements for dishwashers and fire sprinklers and other places. Our schools are in a variety of need. The newer ones, Minden and Pinon Hills, are within compliance. Carson Valley Middle School has a variety of water connections because there are five or six different additions to the main building. It is going to cost $70,000-$90,000 for that school alone,” Kester said.
He said the district expects to spend $400,000-$600,000 by the time every school is in compliance.
Kester said the district has asked the water suppliers to allow them one year to become compliant. He said GRGID asked them to do work on C.C. Meneley Elementary School immediately and that work has been completed.
“Because cost is so severe, we’ve got to reprioritize. This is a major kind of undertaking,” Kester said. “We’ve got 850,000 square feet of buildings and the buildings cover such a wide spread of time. We intend to complete the analysis and then attempt to begin appropriating money toward the problem.”
Svetich said the backflow prevention devices can cost as little as $170 at Home Depot, but the cost of installing them is high because there are a variety of precautions that have to be taken to ensure the device doesn’t freeze.
“For large commercial buildings, like casinos, they will need a four-inch assembly installed immediately after the meter and have to run electrical out to it for freeze protection. It could cost up to $20,000 for the plumber, electrician and the freeze protection box,” Svetich said.
She said there is no money available from the state to help business owners pay for installation.
n Small business. Karl Aynedter of Highland Nursery and Landscaping in the Ranchos said he is having to give up the nursery side of his business because of this mandate.
He said plumbers have quoted him prices from $2,200 to $675 to install the device, but the GRGID won’t answer his questions why this is necessary. He has been told the yearly test would cost about $75.
“We have vacuum breakers that are typically on irrigation systems. It doesn’t allow water to get sucked into the main line, but I was told by Lumos it was not acceptable because it’s not testable,” he said. “On Oct. 4, we got a letter that said if we don’t do this by Oct. 3, they will cut off our water. How can they force us to comply by doing that?”
The business first received a letter on June 27 asking for compliance within 60 days.
Aynedter said he attempted to reason with the GID, telling them his business doesn’t use any toxins or chemicals in the nursery. He said they ignored this information.
“To me, it is a matter of money and deception. The little businesses don’t get any breaks. We have to bend over backwards to get licenses and nobody is talking about this,” he said. “The cost to the consumer is completely ridiculous. I’m already paying GRGID for water. This is highly questionable.”