26 Reasons to Ban Residential RP Backflow Valves

This page assumes that you have a working knowledge of what backflow valves are and that you're aware that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is revising Chapter 62-555 of the Florida Administrative Code about backflow valves. If you want a primer on backflow valves, please visit my other two websites at http://www.suncitydave.info/backflow.htm and at http://www.backflowvideos.org/

At the moment, DEP is still considering the inclusion of the old-fashioned and dangerous Reduced Pressure Zone (RP - formerly known at RPZ) backflow valves in their revised regulations. This is very troubling! So here are 26 reasons why RP valves should be totally banned from residential areas.

Each reason is given as a simple sentence or two. But if you click on the underlined Reason #, you can read the full background of the reason. In the legal profession, I believe this is called "making a record".

Backflow events are extremely rare.

Reason 1:
Florida has a population of over 18.5 million people. No one in Florida has ever died from a backflow valve incident!

Reason 2:
Hillsborough County, Florida has a population of over one million people. No one in Hillsborough County has ever even gotten sick from a backflow valve incident!

Reason 3:
Data cited by the DEP shows that there is an average of just one backflow incident per year in Florida.

RPs are dangerous.

Reason 4:
RPs provide direct access to the public water supply.

Reason 5:
National publications recognize that providing terrorists with direct access to public water supplies is dangerous.

Reason 6:
Residential RPs are considered dangerous by officials from:

  • the water utility,
  • the county,
  • the Florida Department of Health and
  • the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Reason 7:
Residential RPs are considered dangerous by the staff of the University of Florida's TREEO Center.

Reason 8:
The DEP reports that RPs have an annual "failure to function properly" rate of 25%. From a statistical point of view, that means that at any given instant, 1 out of every 8 RP valves in Florida are failing to function properly!

Reason 9:
RPs may “dramatically fail”.

RPs violate a number of state and federal laws.

Reason 10:
Federal rules do not require homeowners to install RP valves.

Reason 11:
RPs violate the Patriot Act.

Reason 12:
RPs violate the Bioterrorism Act.

Reason 13:
RPs violate Section 403.851(3) of the Florida Statutes (Florida's Safe Drinking Water Act) by:

  • failing to provide safe drinking water at all times,
  • failing to give due regard to economic factors and
  • failing to consider efficiency in government.

Reason 14:
RPs violate Section 120.52(8)(f) of the Florida Statutes because of their cost.

Reason 15:
DEP lacks the authority to delegate to utilities the imposition of more elements or more stringent requirements.

Reason 16:
Utilities lack the authority to impose more elements or more stringent requirements on homeowners.

RPs have a negative impact on utilities.

Reason 17:
RP monitoring and reporting requirements are excessive.
Does Home Rule status affect the reporting requirements?

Reason 18:
RPs are a liability to utilities.

Reason 19:
RPs put utilities in legal jeopardy - based on negligence.

Reason 20:
The RP regulations are very costly and could increase a utility's debt and debt service costs.

Reason 21:
Backflow incidents via RPs would probably lower a utility's bond rating.

RPs have a negative impact on homeowners.

Reason 22:
RPs, which must be above ground and adjacent to the water meter, are subject to a number of physical problems including:

  • RPs are easily damaged by careless drivers who run over them with their vehicles,
  • RPs are easily damaged by lawn-care crews who drive over them with their mowers,
  • RPs are easily sheared off by air-borne debris during hurricanes,
  • RPs are easily damaged by freezing temperatures in our more northern counties,
  • RPs are easily stolen - to be sold as scrap metal to buy drugs,
  • RPs are a hazard to walkers and joggers,
  • RPs are an eyesore,
  • RPs cause utility system disinfectants to deteriorate,
  • RPs have a high pressure drop across the valve and
  • RPs may cause hot water tanks to explode.

Reason 23:
RPs are an unfunded mandate.

Reason 24:
Plumbers charge whatever the traffic will bear for installing RPs.

Reason 25:
Annual RP testing and maintenance is expensive and often corrupt.

Reason 26:
Requiring RPs is like scaring citizens into buying home water treatment systems.

 

Rainbow line

 

A Note about Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) water meters.

Periodically throughout the following Reasons, reference will be made to "AMRs" which are the intelligent and safe alternative to RP valves. An AMR is an Automatic Meter Reading water meter, usually with an attached Dual-check valve. An AMR is located in the utility's easement just outside of each property and records the amount of forward and backflow water every 15 minutes, or oftener, and transmits the data to a passing vehicle or instantly to a central antenna.

The city of Dunedin, FL, has a very informative and user-friendly page for their customers about their recent changeover to AMRs.

AMRs are based on tried-and-true water meter components and are very low maintenance. AMRs are typically warranted for 10 to 20 years. And empirical testing by Palm Beach County has shown that Dual-check valves still protect against backflow even after ten or more years. And most importantly, an AMR/Dual-check valve combo is the only device that actually conforms with the requirements of being able to “detect” and “prevent” backflow. Contrast that with an RP which is so delicate, so unreliable and so prone to failure that it must be tested annually. And in between the yearly tests, it just sits there in a "failure to function properly" condition 25% of the time, according to the DEP. An RP can’t even detect if it’s broken and allowing backflow.

On the other hand, when an AMR reports that there is backflow, the problem is fixed within minutes or hours and has no reason to resurface. AMRs reduce the per meter reading cost from 54 cents to about 4 cents per. Because of the backflow caused by hot water tanks' thermal expansion, AMRs immediately detect a failed Dual-check valve. AMRs detect homeowners who are watering illegally during drought periods. AMRs detect bad toilet flapper valves that waste water. And to help conserve water, Dunedin even gives out "a special AMR Meter Magnet that you can place on your refrigerator. The magnet will display your meter reading and you'll be able to track how much water you actually use for showers, dishes and laundry."

AMR's are to water utilities what Mozart is to music!

   

Reason 1: Florida has a population of over 18.5 million people. No one in Florida has ever died from a backflow valve incident!

The DEP held five workshops around the state to seek guidance on revising the rules regarding backflow valves. These workshops were held at West Palm Beach (8/7/2008), Sanford (2/18/2009), Temple Terrace (7/8/2009), West Palm Beach (7/9/2009) and Tallahassee (7/21/2009). As part of each workshop, DEP gave a PowerPoint presentation about backflow. At the Sanford workshop, the lower part of slide 17 was about the city worker in Belle Glade who died from drinking insecticide. The DEP tried very hard to pin his death on a backflow incident.

Slide about drunk.

However, the Associated Press news report (6/26/1988) that was published on 6/26/1988 in "The Gainesville Sun", the "Tampa Tribune" and the "St. Petersburg Times" told a very different story.

Article from St. Petersburg Times.

Note that the faucet was tested and didn't show any trace of pesticide! In fact, the article even quotes the Belle Glade Public Works Director Frank Green as saying "We took water right out of the faucet and didn't get a trace (of pesticide).” And the Chief Medical Examiner's report showed that the worker died of "complications due to insecticide intoxication and chronic alcoholism" and that his blood-alcohol level at the time was .23%, which is almost three times Florida's legal limit of .08%. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a drunk took a swig from a bottle of insecticide and died. And even if one ignores all of the actual circumstances, such an incident would have been prevented by a simple $4 hose-bib relief valve on the faucet, not by a $700 RP valve out by the road somewhere.

Some states do not require residential backflow prevention devices. These states include Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, Utah and Wyoming. The Wyoming rule is very succinct as to why:

"The prevention of one death in 143 years at a cost of $1.3 billion dollars does not justify the mandatory installation of back flow devices on residential and domestic non-residential services."

Florida has 35 times the population of Wyoming, has been around even longer and has never had even one death. Here is the full Wyoming ruling:

Wyoming decision - page 1.

Wyoming decision - page 1.

The next to last sentence sets forth that mandatory installation of any backflow devices is not justified. The last sentence allows local governments to "implement more restrictive measures". However, this would not be allowed in Florida if it were a more expensive measure because of Section 120.52(8)(f) of the Florida Statutes which mandates that a local government cannot specify to a “regulated person” an alternate backflow device or requirements that are more costly. See Reason 14 for a broader explanation of Section 120.52(8)(f).

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Reason 2: Hillsborough County, Florida has a population of over one million people. No one in Hillsborough County has ever even gotten sick from a backflow valve incident!

On July 30, 2007, a Public Records Act request was made to the Hillsborough County Health Department for “the last twelve documented instances in residential areas in which water was pumped from a lake or well and entered the Hillsborough County's water supply and made people sick.” They were unable to supply any documents to satisfy the request.

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Reason 3: Data cited by the DEP shows that there is an average of just one backflow incident per year in Florida.

The DEP’s Sanford Slide #17 states that the “USEPA has compiled data on 459 backflow incidents that occurred in U.S. from 1970 to 2001 & that resulted in estimated 12,093 illnesses.”

EPA data.

When "459 backflow incidents" are prorated for the number of years and the population of Florida, it works out to an average of one backflow incident per year in Florida. And that one incident could be commercial, agricultural or residential. If that one incident happens to be the latter and it happens to emanate from a property that pumps its own irrigation water and the valve happens to not be the 1 in 8 that that DEP reports to be "failing to function properly" at any particular instant then maybe the backflow might be prevented. In other words, the installation, testing and maintaining of 170,000 residential RPs at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars will maybe keep one person from getting diarrhea per year. Ta-daa!

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Reason 04: RPs provide direct access to the public water supply.

Direct access image.

This is a Reduced Pressure Zone (RP) backflow file. It is also known as a reduced-pressure principle backflow preventer. It can cost up to $700 to have one installed - depending on the honesty of the plumber. It is very complicated and prone to failure.

The DEP describes the RP valve as having "internal seals, springs, and check valves that are subject to fouling, corrosion, wear, or fatigue. Depositing water and tuberculation build-up, as well as foreign material such as sand grains, can foul check valves or can clog sensing lines in reduced-pressure principle backflow preventers. Corrosive waters can disintegrate metal parts. Even the simple movement of water through backflow preventers can cause wear on parts."

The DEP has reported that RPs have a 25% yearly "failure to function properly" rate. From a statistical point of view, this means that at this very instant, 1 out of 8 RP valves are failing to function properly". No wonder! Because it has so many parts that can go bad, it must be tested and maintained annually. According to staff at the University of Florida, the cost for the annual testing and maintenance can range from $60 to over $840 - again depending on the honesty of the plumber or tester.

The valve must be mounted above ground and adjacent to the water meter. This means that typically, it is at the front of the lawn next to the sidewalk and street. Note the four access ports on top. The port on the left gives terrorists, disgruntled people and pranksters direct access to inject deadly chemicals and bio-toxins into a community's drinking water supply. There is another type of backflow valve call a Double-check which also has the direct access ports. It too must be located adjacent to the water meter on the front lawn. However, it is usually in a vault which takes a terrorist an extra five or ten seconds to gain access to the public water supply. Both RPs and Double-checks should be banned from residential areas. Double-check valves should not be confused with Dual-check valves which are more reliable and much safer.

Utilities usually operate their distribution system at a pressure of about 70 psi. Obviously, if a terrorist can pressurize a container of deadly chemicals or bio-toxins to more than 70 psi and has the right plumbing fittings (which are available at Home Depot and Ace Hardware), the greater pressure will overcome the utility's pressure and backfeed the chemicals or bio-toxins into the public water supply. It ain't rocket science!

Water utilities go to great lengths to ensure that the water leaving their treatment plants is 99.9% pure. Technically, this is referred to as achieving a "four log inactivation of viruses before point of entry into the distribution system." This is accomplished through high level filtration to remove small particles that can harbor protozoa and the use of chlorine, chloramines, and chlorine dioxide to kill or inactivate blue algae, e. coli, fecal coli, giardia, cryptosporidium, legionella and various other critters. The chlorine residual drops once the water leaves the treatment plant depending on distance, ground temperature and water consumption. For example, on my street in the middle of summer with many of the residents up north, the chlorine residual level dropped to zero. The water smelled so bad that one lady on the street commented that her bathroom smelled worst after she flushed. (The utility remedied the situation by installing a flushing whip at the end of our street and embarking on an aggressive flushing protocol.)

The chlorine residual in a system's distribution system is there to protect against minor microbial contamination, not major contamination events. And higher levels of chloramine residues are not permitted because they break down into carcinogens. So, if a terrorist backfeeds a deadly chemical or bio-toxin into the distribution system, there will not be sufficient residual or contact time to render the inactivation of contaminants before it is ingested by the public. In fact, there are certain chemicals and pathogens that aren't even affected by chloramine residues. (That's why outside faucets are not permitted on reclaimed water for irrigation systems because of the fear that someone, particularly children, might drink it. Reclaimed water is sewage water that has been highly chlorinated, but still contains active and harmful pathogens.)

So, armed with all this knowledge, two facts become abundantly and logically clear.

  • First is that whatever a terrorist, disgruntled person or prankster backfeeds into a public water supply through an RP isn't going to be neutralized by chemicals.
  • Second is that given the high annual "fail to function properly" rate of RPs, which the DEP reports to be one in four (25%), the containment of an innocent backfeed of pesticide through a garden hose or lake water through a cross-connection of an irrigation system is questionable.

RPs aren't the answer to anything, except to provide income to plumbers and testers!

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Reason 5: National publications recognize that providing terrorists with direct access to public water supplies is dangerous.

Tim De Young and Adam Gravley, who are partners in the Seattle office of Preston Gates and Ellis, LLP wrote an article titled “Coordinating Efforts to Secure American Public Water Supplies” that appeared in the American Bar Association’s “Natural Resources and Environment Journal”, Volume 16, Number 3, Winter 2002. They wrote that:

“While it may be relatively easy to protect water sources and treatment plants from contamination, extensive distribution systems provide multiple access points. … Some water utility officials believe that the leading threat to the nation's water supply may be the use of backflow pressure to introduce poisons into local water distribution systems.”

WaterTechOnline.com reported on a Water Security Summit that was held in Hartford, CT in 2001. One of the speakers was Mike Hightower of Sandia National Laboratories, a member of the technical staff for the lab's Energy and Critical Infrastructure program. He spoke about the Vulnerability Assessment Process. The report of his speech quotes Mr. Hightower as stating that:

“The distribution system is the point that is probably most vulnerable to terrorists. … 'Guards, guns and gates' are not sufficient when it comes to terrorism.”

Gay Porter Denileon, a member of the National Critical Infrastructure Protection Advisory Group, wrote an article titled “The Who, What, Why, and How of Counterterrorism Issues” that appeared in the "Journal of the AWWA", Vol. 93, May 2001. She wrote:

“One [individual] who understands hydraulics and has access to a drum of toxic chemicals could inflict serious damage to a water supply in a neighborhood or pressure zone without detection pretty quickly in most communities.”

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Reason 6: Residential RPs are considered dangerous by officials from:

  • the water utility,
  • the county,
  • the Florida Department of Health and
  • the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

I have a dog-and-pony show about the vulnerabilities of backflow valves that I take around to various community groups. It includes an actual demonstration of just how easily bio-toxins and deadly chemicals can be backfed into a community’s drinking water supply. You can view the demonstration by going to www.backflowvideos.org and clicking on Demonstration.

Demonstration rig.

In this photograph, I have just backfed a deadly chemical (cherry Kool-Aid) from a $30 pressure rig, at 125 psi, through a test port on the RP valve into the public water supply (the Tupperware container). When this happens for real, if residential RPs are left in the DEP's regulations, instead of the small fire extinguisher tank, the pressure vessel would probably be an air compressor tank from Home Depot with pressure supplied by a paintball gun gas cartridge, all of which would fit in the trunk of a car. I ain't never went to any of them thar fancy engineer schools, but it don't matter no how, cause overcoming the normal 70 psi in a public water supply in order to backflow bio-toxins and deadly chemicals through an RP is as easy as fallin off a log. With all the engineering prowess available at the utilities, counties, the Department of Health, the Department of Environmental Protection, the University of Florida, the FBI, Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency, one would think that devices, like RPs, that provide direct access to the public water supply from out-of-the-way places would be totally banned. But then again, maybe engineers and the safety of the drinking water supply take a backseat to the special interest groups that favor RPs.

A number of government officials from my water utility, my county, the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection were very upset by my presentations that questioned the wisdom of putting RPs on lawns in residential areas. These officials exchanged a number of internal emails among themselves about my activities. The pattern that emerged was that county and state civil servants publicly preached the virtues of RPs while using every conceivable tactic to squelch any comment to the contrary. The most hurtful tactic they used was to contact law enforcement about my speaking out.

For example, Stacy Williams, a Community Relations Coordinator with Hillsborough County related that:

"Bob DeCecco [Hillsborough County’s Cross-Connection Control Coordinator] is contacting FDLE [Florida Department of Law Enforcement] and Homeland Security and reporting [Brown] to them, because he continues to publish these demonstrations."
Cindy Morris, the Environmental Administrator with the Florida Department of Health, wrote:
"We will be speaking with this individual [Brown] at the next cross connection control meeting to ensure our concerns are voiced regarding his e-mail & possible FDLE [Florida Department of Law Enforcement] involvement if he should continue this effort."
Wally Hill, the Assistant County Administrator for Hillsborough County, wrote:
"I asked the Sheriff's Office this weekend to contact Homeland Security regarding Mr. Brown's activities."

Perhaps the most hurtful action of all was Van Hoofnagle, the Administrator of the Drinking Water Program for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, when he wrote:

"I would also refer the email to Law Enforcement as I have done by copy of this email to our DEP contact at Emergency Response. Van - P.S. Phil [Wieczynski] would [you] take a look at this and forward to the appropriate contacts you have in law enforcement?"
Hoofnagle is the person who is guiding the direction that the revised regulations will take. At the moment, he still has residential RPs in the draft.

It seems the height of civil servant hypocrisy for these officials to publically endorse RPs while using their official positions to get a citizen in trouble and causing him to have a law enforcement record. It's behavior like this that gives civil service a bad name. And indeed, I did get a visit from the FBI. But after I gave them the demonstration, they agreed with me and left. And all this, just for expressing an alternate viewpoint about residential RPs!

Stacy Williams, with the County's Communication department, summed it up best:

"Brown's reasoning is if above-the-ground backflow valves are that dangerous
that we don't want him showing it, then they shouldn't be in people's yards."

A document with these and other internal government emails is available at: www.suncitydave.info/reasons/smoking-guns.pdf

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Reason 7: Residential RPs are considered dangerous by the staff of the University of Florida's TREEO Center.

Back on July 2, 2007, Hillsborough County had a “seminar” about backflow valves. Les O’Brien from the University of Florida's Center for Training, Research, and Education for Environmental Occupations (TREEO Center) was there. The TREEO Center conducts a number of classes about water and sewage matters. The DEP considers O’Brien to be “a nationally recognized expert on backflow prevention and cross-connection control.” I took my backflow demonstration rig to the seminar to demonstrate to the attendees just how easy it is to backflow a contaminate through an RP valve into the public drinking water supply. I was prohibited from giving my demonstration by a Hillsborough County official who appearently recognizes the dangers of residential RPs. However, O’Brien told me that he had built a similar, though more robust, rig that he took to Homeland Security and law enforcement seminars to demonstrate the ease of contaminating a public water supply.

Fast forward three years to May of 2010… When I heard that O’Brien had recently retired, I sent him an email asking about his rig:

“Now that you're retired, whatever happened to it? Do you still have it? Did you 'will' it to the University? Or did it end up somewhere else?”
He responded with:
“That equipment belongs to TREEO Center. It is well hidden. I only show it to Homeland Security folks and law enforcement agencies.”

I then sent an email to Director Hinton of the TREEO Center:

“Based on Les' response, you have the device I was asking him about. Would you please confirm that it is in TREEO's possession? And, I would very much appreciate your keeping it intact for the next few years in case it's ever needed as evidence in any sort of future legal action to demonstrate that you, as a state official, and the TREEO Center are very much aware of the way that RP (RPZ) valves can be used by terrorists, disgruntled people and pranksters to inject bio-toxins and deadly chemicals directly into public water supplies.”
She didn’t respond, so I wrote again:
“Over a week ago I sent you an email asking about the location of piece of TREEO equipment. I have not yet received a response from you. Since this device may figure prominently in the recognition by a state official of the vulnerability of RP backflow valves, I hope that you will devote some time to locating and securing the item, since as Mr. Les O'Brien, a former employee of yours, notes: ‘That equipment belongs to TREEO Center.’"

Her response a week later was:

“After researching your request, I am afraid that the information you received from Mr. O’Brien is not correct. He did devise a small device using a water filter, but not a large device. This has been dismantled and is no longer a problem. Please remove the reference to the University of Florida from your videos since it is not accurate and makes UF/TREEO vulnerable to a potential terrorist.”

The Director’s decision to dismantle the rig was an arrogant act and unbecoming of a civil servant. But, on the bright side, it certainly is confirmation that a state official with respected knowledge about RPs recognizes that such a rig is useful to terrorists who are intent on contaminating a public water supply with deadly chemicals or bio-toxins.

A subsequent Public Records request turned up even more information. There were internal emails showing that because of my simple inquiry, Director Hinton and her TREEO staff contacted the FBI, Homeland Security, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction?) task force, whatever that is, and the UPD (University Police Department?). Wow! I was very impressed that they got so motivated just because I asked about their RP valve backflow over-pressure demonstration rig. Director Hinton's statements and actions made the point about the dangers of residential RPs with much more authority than this lowly citizen could ever have hoped to achieve. Her reaction, to turn to such agencies, is certainly compelling testimony that RP valves don't belong on residential lawns and certainly don't belong in the DEP's regulations.

And if the DEP does include RPs and Double-check valves in the residential irrigation choices in their final revision and if the whole matter ends up in a court somewhere, I look forward to Director Hinton's testimony since her actions and statements will be such a direct and powerful confirmation by a state official, who is tasked to be very familiar with water matters, that these valves don’t belong in residential areas.

But more than all that, these agencies that she and her staff contacted are supposed to be concerned with domestic terrorism. And yet, they turn a blind eye to a state agency, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, that is providing terrorists with the very means (residential RPs and Double-check valves) that they need (along with a few materials from Home Depot and a farm supply store) to do harm to innocent people.

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Reason 8: The DEP reports that RPs have an annual "failure to function properly" rate of 25%. From a statistical point of view, that means that at any given instant, 1 out of every 8 RP valves in Florida are failing to function properly!

RPs are very complicated with many parts that can fail. The DEP prepared an official statement concerning the unreliability of Reduced Pressure Zone backflow valves (RPs) in response to a question from a member of the Florida Senate as to why the time between testing RPs shouldn’t be five years, instead of one. The statement was sent by John Sowerby on 4/1/2005 to Geofrey Mansfield and Brian Welch (DEP’s lobbyist to the Florida Senate) for presentation to the Senator. Here is the statement:

"Mechanical backflow preventers have internal seals, springs, and check valves that are subject to fouling, corrosion, wear, or fatigue. Depositing water and tuberculation build-up, as well as foreign material such as sand grains, can foul check valves or can clog sensing lines in reduced-pressure principle backflow preventers. Corrosive waters can disintegrate metal parts. Even the simple movement of water through backflow preventers can cause wear on parts. Therefore, testable mechanical backflow preventers must be tested periodically to ensure that the internal parts of the backflow preventers are functioning properly. All manufacturers of backflow preventers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the American Water Works Association, the American Backflow Prevention Association, the American Society of Sanitary Engineering, and the National Fire Protection Association, as well as the International Plumbing Code and Florida Building Code, recommend or require that testable mechanical backflow preventers be tested at least annually (or more frequently). Less frequent testing of testable mechanical backflow preventers will result in both an increased number of these backflow preventers failing to function properly between tests and an increased period of time during which these backflow preventers are not functioning properly. According to Les O'Brien, an instructor at the University of Florida's Center for Training, Research, and Environmental Occupations and a nationally recognized expert on backflow prevention and cross-connection control, the percentage of testable mechanical backflow preventers failing to function properly during any year typically ranges between 10% to 40% and increases about 10% each year a backflow preventer is not tested. Therefore, after five years, the percentage of testable mechanical backflow preventers failing to function properly may be between 50% and 80%. When a mechanical backflow preventer fails to function properly, it may or may not still prevent backflow depending on the type and degree of failure."

The “10% to 40%” failure rate averages out to an annual "fail to function properly" rate of 25%, i.e. one in four can be expected to fail each year. An RP failure rate of 1 out of 4 (25%) to protect a public water system from contamination is very troubling, from both a safety and liability standpoint. From a statistical point of view, 25% means that at any particular moment, 1 out of 8 RP valves in Florida are failing to function properly. To see a video of the statistical reasoning that a 25% annual failure rate equates to a failure rate of 1 in 8 at any particular moment, please click 1 in 8 failure rate video. And please turn up the sound to hear the commentary that leads into the animation.

As to whether the failure to function properly means that the RP "may or may not still prevent backflow", the fact that the DEP's recommendation was to continue annual testing is a pretty good sign to me that "failing to function" RPs generally don't prevent backflow - otherwise DEP would have recommended a two, or even five, year testing interval. And any RP valve that showed that it was "failing to function properly" would get expensive maintenance applied to it, whether or not it "may or may not still prevent backflow". Even with their caveats, the DEP still considers "failure to function properly" as a failure worthy of maintenance.

I can’t think of any discipline concerned with the safety of individuals, including aviation, railroads, highways, automobiles and even the disinfecting of a public water supply, that would ever condone a 1 in 8 chance of "failure to function properly" at any given moment. Can you imagine a pilot's announcing:

"This is your Captain speaking. Today, we'll be crusing at 35,000 feet - well, that is, assuming this isn't that one time in eight that the wings fall off. Now sit back and enjoy the rest of your flight. And thank you for flying with "Take A Chance" airlines."

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Reason 9: RPs may “dramatically fail”.

According to a 4/1/2005 email from Mark Krouse, Water Treatment Division, Charlotte, NC to John Sowerby, Florida DEP:

“A dramatic failure of the RP will allow a full discharge continuously until the water to the RP is turned off. Lots of water is wasted (water conservation concern). Customer expense for property damage and water used. Water purveyors expense for any water bill write-offs, increased water treated and wasted. A repair will need to be made before water can be reactivated. Customer will be inconvenienced.”

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Reason 10: Federal rules do not require homeowners to install RP valves.

"The Feds do not have rules requiring how a Cross-Connection Control program must be administered." This quote is from an email written by Les O'Brien who was a Senior Training Specialist at the University of Florida’s Center for Training, Research, and Education for Environmental Occupations (TREEO Center) until his recent retirement. The email was to Bob DiCecco, Hillsborough County's Cross-connection Control Manager - 9/5/07.

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Reason 11: RPs violate the Patriot Act.

The DEP's regulations provide “material support and resources” to terrorists, which is a violation of the Patriot Act. DEP's regulations do this by providing the access weapons (RPs) and an open invitation for terrorists to contaminate the public drinking water supply.

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Reason 12: RPs violate the Bioterrorism Act.

The DEP's regulations promote “adversarial actions that might substantially disrupt the ability of a system to provide a safe and reliable supply of drinking water.”, which is a violation of the Bioterrorism Act. DEP's regulations do this by providing the means (RPs) to disrupt the ability of a system to provide safe drinking water.

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Reason 13: RPs violate Section 403.851(3) of the Florida Statutes (Florida's Safe Drinking Water Act) by:

  • failing to provide safe drinking water at all times,
  • failing to give due regard to economic factors and
  • failing to consider efficiency in government.

Section 403.851(3) of the Florida Statutes (Florida's Safe Drinking Water Act) states:

"Declaration of policy - It is the policy of the state that the citizens of Florida shall be assured of the availability of safe drinking water. ... Without any relinquishment of Florida’s sovereign powers and responsibilities to provide for the public health, public safety, and public welfare of the people of Florida, the Legislature intends: To provide for safe drinking water at all times throughout the state, with due regard for economic factors and efficiency in government."

First is the official statement by the DEP’s John Sowerby who reported that RPs have a 25% yearly failure to function properly rate. From a statistical point of view, that means that at any given moment in the state of Florida, 1 out of 8 RP valves are failing to function properly. Trying to reconcile the providing of safe drinking water at all times with DEP's stated failure rates for RPs seems like a real reach.

Second, the DEP is required to consider the “economic factors” related to the installation, testing and maintenance of RPs (compared to Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) water meters). When an agency creates or revises a regulation, it is required to prepare a Statement of Estimated Regulatory Costs (SERC) to small businesses. And yet, DEP does not plan to estimate the cost to homeowners even though it will run into hundreds of millions of dollars. How in the world can the DEP ever hope to give due regard to economic factors, as required by law, if they’re unwilling to consider the costs to homeowners to install and annually test and maintain RP valves?

Third, the DEP is required to consider efficiency in government. The 07/01/2009 Draft Regulations create reporting requirements that only a career bureaucrat could love. See Reason 17 for a broader discussion. The reporting requirements were the main complaint by utility personnel at the workshops. And judging by Slide 20 at the Sanford workshop, DEP doesn't even expect utility workers to tell the truth, anyway!

Slide about poor reporting.

The DEP has already acknowledged that an average of one in four (25%) of all RPs "fail to function properly" each year. And this rate along with backflow incidents will go on month-after-month, year-after-year as succeeding valves continue to succumb to all the problems that can plague them. If AMRs are used instead of RPs, there will be little need for any reporting because all cross-connections will be detected and resolved within 30 days of the AMR's installation.

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Reason 14: RPs violate Section 120.52(8)(f) of the Florida Statutes because of their cost.

Section 120.52(8)(f) of the Florida Statutes precisely states:

“A proposed or existing rule is an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority if the rule imposes regulatory costs on the regulated person, county, or city which could be reduced by the adoption of less costly alternatives that substantially accomplish the statutory objectives.”

The DEP has already laid out a number of “alternatives” that they have obviously found to “substantially accomplish the statutory objectives" - otherwise, they would not have included them in Tables 1 & 2 of their 07/01/2009 Draft Regulations.

DEP Table 1.

DEP Table 2.

Having already laid out a number of eligible devices, DEP’s task, in order to conform with Section 120.52(8)(f), is to determine for each of the six cells of Table 1, the alternative that is the “less costly”.

For the top right block of Table 1 (Residential, Irrigation), the RP (Reduced Pressure Zone) and DC (Double-check) valves, circled in red, would be eliminated. The DuC (Dual-check) valve would remain.

Likewise, all utilities that are also required to obey the Florida Statutes and the Florida Administrative Code, must also abide by the “less costly alternatives” mandate. This would include all utilities owned by municipalities and counties.

Later on, Reason 18 includes additional citations of other aspects of Section 120.82(8) that are violated by the inclusion of RP valves in the DEP's regulations.

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Reason 15: DEP lacks the authority to delegate to utilities the imposition of more elements or more stringent requirements.

The DEP does not have the authority to authorize a CWS [Community Water Systems] that is beholden to the Florida Statutes to violate those same Statutes by establishing and implementing written cross-connection control programs with more elements, or more stringent requirements, if those elements and requirements are not the less costly alternative (Section 120.52(8)(f) F.S.). The DEP’s 07/01/2009 Draft Revision uses the phrase “as stringent as” or “more stringent than” three times to let utilities range beyond the regulations. In particular, on page 12 of the draft:

“(b) CWSs [Community Water Systems] may establish and implement written cross-connection control programs with more elements, or more stringent requirements, than those described in paragraph 62-555.360(5)(a), F.A.C. Paragraph 62-24 555.360(5)(a), F.A.C., establishes minimum requirements for written cross-connection control programs and does not prohibit CWSs from establishing and implementing programs with more elements or more stringent requirements.”

Quite simply, the Department of Environmental Protection does not have the authority to allow a utility to violate Section 120.52(8)(f) of the Florida Statutes.

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Reason 16: Utilities lack the authority to impose more elements or more stringent requirements on homeowners.

As in Reason 15, and because of that very same statute (Section 120.52(8)(f) F.S.), a utility does not have the authority to specify to a “regulated person” an alternate backflow device (element) or requirements that are more costly.

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Reason 17: RP monitoring and reporting requirements are excessive.

The 07/01/2009 Draft Regulations create reporting requirements that only a career bureaucrat could love. The reporting requirements were the main complaint by utility personnel at the workshops. They spoke to the point that the economic downturn has brought about layoffs, but that the same amount of work was required to keep the infrastructure functioning. The last thing they needed was to waste time making periodic on-site inspections, replacing valves "just in case they've gone bad" and doing additional paperwork.

And according to Slide 20 from the Sanford workshop, DEP doesn't even expect utility workers to tell the truth, anyway!

Slide about poor reporting.

The DEP has already acknowledged that an average of 25% RPs "fail to function properly" each year. And this rate, along with backflow incidents, will go on month-after-month, year-after-year as succeeding valves continue to succumb to all the problems that can plague them. If AMRs are used instead of RPs, there will be little need for any reporting because all cross-connections will be detected and resolved within 30 days of the AMR's installation. And any malfunctioning Dual-check valves will be replaced as needed.

Does Home Rule status affect the reporting requirements?

At the Tallahassee workshop on July 21, 2009, over a year ago, a gentleman from one of the panhandle utilities asked, in a very intelligent manner, if the regulations actually applied to those with Home Rule. He questioned the legality of DEP’s mandating an unfunded mandate on local governments that have been granted Home Rule under Article 8 of the Florida Statutes, because they are special districts and have their own legal responsibility for water quality. His question stumped the DEP officials who were there. Cynthia Christen, the legal counsel for the DEP at that meeting, promised that she would get back to him (and me) with an answer. I reminded her of her promise on 7/22/2009, 8/3/2009, 3/22/2010 and 7/21/2010 – and still there is no answer.

I’m not going to try to fathom all the aspects of Home Rule. I think it simply means that a local government can write its own laws as long as they don't violate federal laws. Please email me a better definition if I'm incorrect.

We can often infer an answer by silence. In the Sherlock Holmes mystery “Silver Blaze", the crime is solved by the behavior of the dog.

”Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

What concerns me is that when a civil servant fails to respond after fourteen months and four reminders, one has to wonder if there’s more to this simple question than meets the eye. According to an email from Les O’Brien (TREEO Center) to Bob DiCecco (Hillsborough County), "The Feds do not have rules requiring how a Cross-Connection Control program must be administered." I’ve sort of wondered if Home Rule districts can bypass DEP regulations that aren’t specifically mandated by the federal government. And that answering this particular question related to the lowly RP valve might prove a precedent for a number of other DEP regulations. I have absolutely no legal basis to support this conjecture, but it sure would explain why the DEP’s lawyer won’t provide an answer, despite several reminders and the passage of time.

Oh, and by the way, Section 120.54(2)(c) of the Florida Statutes does require that: "When a workshop or public hearing is held, the agency must ensure that the persons responsible for preparing the proposed rule are available to explain the agency's proposal and to respond to questions or comments regarding the rule being developed." Well, so much for "responding to questions".

Of course, one has to appreciate the dark humor of her failure to respond. The DEP has written all kinds of time constrains into the revised regulations for harried utility workers to fill out forms about possible backflow incidents and send them in to DEP. And yet, DEP can't even respond to a simple workshop question, even after more than a year!

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Reason 18: RPs are a liability to utilities.

All of Florida's water utilities accept the responsibility to deliver a safe product to their customers. That responsibility cannot be ignored.

Section 403.851(3) of the Florida Statutes (Florida's Safe Drinking Water Act) declares that:

"... the Legislature intends to provide for safe drinking water at all times throughout the state."

The DEP has developed a Source Water Assessment and Protection Program (SWAPP) based on the federal Safe Drinking Water Act as amended in 1996. "The program is meant to ensure that not only is the water at your tap is safe to drink, but also that the source is protected."

The yearly Water Quality Reports from utilities, like that from my own utility, state that "Our goal is to provide you with a safe, dependable supply of drinking water."

Paul Vanderploog, Director of the Hillsborough County Water Resource Services, wrote:

"As system operators we have the safety and well being of our customers at the top of our list. Thus, we fully accept the responsibility to police our operating systems and stand accountable for the system's operation. … I would not expect our customers or other external agencies to be responsible for the operational issues, to include water quality, safety, etc., associated with the operation of the County's potable water system.”

Note that the Director accepts that his utility, not the customers, is responsible for the water quality and safety of the potable water system. I trust that all utilities accept this responsibility. Please let me know if yours doesn't.

There is actually a tiny bit of humor associated with the Director's statement. Prior to his making it, his Cross-connection Control Manager had been running around telling people that homeowners are responsible for the safety of the County's drinking water. Picking up on the fact that I was being held responsible for the safety of the system, I asked for a copy of all the specific emergency plans in case of a terrorist attack. After all, if I was being made responsible, I needed to be sure the plans were up to snuff. And I probably would have published them on the internet so that the other residents of the County who were being held responsible could check to see if they thought the plans were adequate. Of course, I was denied access - which is a pretty good sign that I'm not in charge of the safety aspects of the County's drinking water supply.

Despite many laws and a lot of posturing about safe water, the DEP’s current regulations don't really call for utilities to provide safe water "at all times". Most telling is that they make very little provision for safe water once it leaves the confines of the treatment plant. Oh sure, it has a little chlorine in it. But, according to the DEP, even "the chlorine residual required in a system's distribution system is [only there] to protect against minor microbial contamination." There is no required infrastructure device, like an AMR with a Dual-check valve, to protect me from deadly chemicals or biotoxins emanating from my neighbor’s property, either inadvertently or intentionally - or from a backfeeding terrorist, disgruntled person or a prankster. A neighbor’s RP that has been failing for the better part of a year without detection doesn’t exactly conjure up images of a safe drinking water supply for the rest of the community. Nor does having RPs along dimly lit residential streets that provide terrorists with direct access to the public water supply inspire confidence. If the ultimate goal is to provide for the delivery of safe drinking water to my premises, who should be held responsible for the integrity of that goal – the utility or my neighbor? Personally, I'll pick the utility any day of the week!

Section 120.52(8) of the Florida Statutes reads:

(8) “Invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority” means action which goes beyond the powers, functions, and duties delegated by the Legislature. A proposed or existing rule is an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority if any one of the following applies:

(a) The agency has materially failed to follow the applicable rulemaking procedures or requirements set forth in this chapter;

(b) The agency has exceeded its grant of rulemaking authority, citation to which is required by s. 120.54(3)(a)1.;

(c) The rule enlarges, modifies, or contravenes the specific provisions of law implemented, citation to which is required by s. 120.54(3)(a)1.;

(d) The rule is vague, fails to establish adequate standards for agency decisions, or vests unbridled discretion in the agency;

(e) The rule is arbitrary or capricious. A rule is arbitrary if it is not supported by logic or the necessary facts; a rule is capricious if it is adopted without thought or reason or is irrational; or

(f) The rule imposes regulatory costs on the regulated person, county, or city which could be reduced by the adoption of less costly alternatives that substantially accomplish the statutory objectives.

A grant of rulemaking authority is necessary but not sufficient to allow an agency to adopt a rule; a specific law to be implemented is also required. An agency may adopt only rules that implement or interpret the specific powers and duties granted by the enabling statute. No agency shall have authority to adopt a rule only because it is reasonably related to the purpose of the enabling legislation and is not arbitrary and capricious or is within the agency's class of powers and duties, nor shall an agency have the authority to implement statutory provisions setting forth general legislative intent or policy. Statutory language granting rulemaking authority or generally describing the powers and functions of an agency shall be construed to extend no further than implementing or interpreting the specific powers and duties conferred by the same statute.

Regulations must be based on logic and facts (Section 120.52(8)(e), Florida Statutes). The inclusion of dangerous RPs, that the DEP recognizes to have an annual 25% "fail to function properly" rate, in the current regulations is a violation of Section 120.52(8)(e) of the Florida Statutes.

It is totally irrational for the regulations to include RPs which are recognized to be so dangerous, based on the acts and admissions by the Hillsborough County Water Resource Services, Hillsborough County, the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (see Reason 6) and even the University of Florida (see Reason 7), that these groups went to extraordinary means to silence a private citizen who spoke out about the valve's dangers.

The logic is quite simple and straight forward:

If RPs are not dangerous, then why did so many government officials at so many levels perform so many acts to suppress public knowledge of the valve's dangers? See Reasons 6 & 7.

On the other hand, if RPs are dangerous, then what in the world are they doing in regulations concerned with the safety of public water supplies?

And regulations that ignore federal acts, like the Patriot Act and Bioterrorism Act, must not be promulgated. The DEP does not have the authority to bypass such federal laws, by including RPs in their regulations. By doing so, DEP is providing “material support and resources”, i.e. the weapons (RPs) and an open invitation for terrorists to contaminate the public drinking water supply. And local and state officials, including the University of Florida, have amply demonstrated, in a number of ways, that they are very much aware of the dangers of residential RP valves (See Reasons 6 & 7). Including RPs and Double-check valves in the regulations is the same as if the Florida Department of Environmental Protection made radioactive material, blocks of C4 explosive and detonators available so that terrorists could make their own dirty bombs.

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Reason 19: RPs put utilities in legal jeopardy - based on negligence.

Sovereign immunity means that the King is always right, i.e. “It’s good to be da King!” It is rooted in English common law. It is not a part of the U.S. Constitution. Despite that, U.S. courts tend to shield local, state and federal government from lawsuits, unless negligence is involved.

An On Tap article notes:

“Many organizations, including water companies, mistakenly believe that they are immune from lawsuits. However, the exposures that can potentially lead to a lawsuit are plentiful.”

In another On Tap article, it is noted that:

"Some utility boards and administrators mistakenly believe they are exempt from lawsuits because they are a public entity. Consequently, they don’t see insurance as a necessary expense. How wrong they are. Small utilities can and have been successfully sued."

In an article co-authored by Tim De Young and Adam Gravley, partners in the Seattle office of Preston Gates and Ellis, LLP, that was appeared in the American Bar Association’s “Natural Resources and Environment Journal”, Volume 16, Number 3, Winter 2002, they wrote:

“Generally, utilities would be sued under negligence theories. From a policy perspective, it could be argued that making water utilities liable for damages caused by terrorist attacks may encourage utilities to take necessary steps to prevent such attacks. On the other hand, many water utilities simply do not have the resources to act as insurers for its customers or to address all conceivable threats. Ironically, legal actions may arise from attempts to make public water supplies more secure. For example, EPA's recently issued guidelines detail the security measures water utilities are advised to implement immediately. If a particular utility fails to implement some or all of these measures or does so in a negligent manner, then the utility arguably should be liable for consequential damages. In the numerous jurisdictions where comparative negligence applies, a utility theoretically could be held liable for some portion of the damages upon a showing of minimal negligence. There appears to be little case law directly on point but a number of courts have held that a water distributor is not an insurer with respect to the condition of its infrastructure and is therefore not liable for damages except on a showing of negligence.”

I will not wade into Sovereign Immunity with my own opinions because of my "dumb as dirt" status. However, I will note several recent decisions in which government negligence resulted in huge settlements. For example, here in Florida there was a Miami settlement of $5,000,000 when a police cruiser negligently injured a man. In California, there was that more recent $20,000,000 settlement for the little girl who was kidnapped by a paroled sex offender, held hostage for 18 years, raped and bore two children because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was negligent. Actually, in many cases, government defendants decide to settle out of court because they fear an even larger settlement against them if the lawsuit goes to trial - because everybody, including juries, knows that counties and states have deep pockets.

Sovereign immunity doesn't come into play for a private firm or even a government sub-contractor. For example, for the recent I35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, as a first step in the trial process, the bridge inspection firm (not the state highway department) was found to be negligent, and will end up providing the multi-million dollar settlements. And there have been a number of lawsuits where construction companies have been doing work at courthouses and water or ice on the slick granite floors that came from outside through propped-open doors caused accidents. Guess what? It was always the contractor, never the courthouse's owner, that was negligent and had to pony-up the settlement.

In Florida, the Legislative Claims process allows a citizen to bring a negligence lawsuit against an agency or local government and then take the court’s decision to the Legislature for approval.

Given that a number of Florida officials on behalf of their local governments or state agencies, including the University of Florida, have clearly acknowledged through their actions and statements that residential RPs are dangerous, utilities should be very concerned about their legal jeopardy if there are any RPs connected to their distribution systems.

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Reason 20: The RP regulations are very costly and could increase a utility's debt and debt service costs.

The DEP solicited comments from all interested parties about the revisions to the backflow valve regulations. Many people took the time and effort to provide excellent comments. I am most familiar with Hillsborough County's (HC) comments and will use their concerns as typical.

"We continue to assert that the requirement to change out or refurbish dual checks every 5 years is costly, and we still find no basis of fact in this requirement other than from the manufacturers themselves. Palm Beach County provided data that showed the viability of these devices long after five years. We would prefer to leave these units in place until the meter is changed out."

"Program activities reports are now shown in much more detail and are potentially overwhelming in scope. While HC does find common ground on several of the proposed seven elements of a CCC program, the requirement (4) to assess all new service connections before providing water service to those connections no later than 12/31/15 is labor intensive and costly. The additional requirement to assess all existing service connections including dedicated fire or irrigation service connections at least once no later than 12/31/24 is also labor intensive and cost prohibitive."

"The annual CCC program activities report for community water systems (CWS) is much more complex, and labor intensive than necessary. HC has had very few possible CC in the past. If additional reporting is required, we suggest limiting this to commercial establishments, which we believe pose the greatest risk."

Because utilities will have to hire additional staff to meet any timelines for implementation and will have to hire additional staff to fill out all the forms and may have to finance debt in order meet the timelines, it seems almost ludicrous for the DEP to impose costly regulations on utilities and homeowners as a solution to a problem which doesn't even exist. After all, no one in Florida has ever died from a backflow incident. And no one in Hillsborough County, which has a population of over one million people, have ever even gotten sick from a backflow incident.

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Reason 21: Backflow incidents via RPs would probably lower a utility's bond rating.

Here is a quote from an article that was co-authored by Tim De Young and Adam Gravley, partners in the Seattle office of Preston Gates and Ellis, LLP. Their article was published in the American Bar Association’s “Natural Resources and Environment Journal”, Volume 16, Number 3, Winter 2002.

“A second issue concerns the liability of water utilities. Our review of the initial institutional responses to terrorist threats suggests that there has been little consideration of this issue. Because of limited experience, the extent to which utilities could be held liable for terrorist attacks is largely unknown. Following the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, hundreds of lawsuits were filed against the New York Port Authority claiming personal injury, wrongful death, property damage, and damages for business interruption. While many of the liabilities were based on claims of negligence, claims were also made based on premises liability and contract. Lawsuits inevitably will arise in the aftermath of September 11 to the extent that victim compensation relief is insufficient. Similar lawsuits can be expected when water supplies or infrastructure are sabotaged. For many water utilities, a large award could undermine their financial ability to continue providing needed services. Even a claim could affect a utility's bond rating."
Since this article was written, the 9/11 lawsuits have been settled. According to Wikipedia, "the average payout was $1.8 million." Could the bond ratings for a utility, even with taxing authority, survive such a settlement for each victim of a terrorist attack made via an RP valve? I doubt it!

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Reason 22: RPs are required to be above ground and adjacent to the water meter.

Valve in front of home - 1. Valve in front of home - 2.

Because of their required location, RPs are subject to a number of physical problems including:

  • RPs are easily damaged by careless drivers who run over them with their vehicles,
  • RPs are easily damaged by lawn-care crews who drive over them with their mowers,
  • RPs are easily sheared off by air-borne debris during hurricanes,
  • RPs are easily damaged by freezing temperatures in our more northern counties,
  • RPs are easily stolen - to be sold as scrap metal to buy drugs,
  • RPs are a hazard to walkers and joggers,
  • RPs are an eyesore,
  • RPs cause utility system disinfectants to deteriorate,
  • RPs have a high pressure drop across the valve and
  • RPs may cause hot water tanks to explode.

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Reason 23: RPs are an unfunded mandate.

Since the Feds do not have rules requiring how a Cross-Connection Control program must be administered, this mandate to install RPs is coming directly from the Florida DEP. Unfunded mandates are the curse of state government, who then passes them on to local government, who then passes them on to the citizen who always ends up footing the bill. The DEP seems insensitive to the plight of senior citizens, indeed, all citizens. Imagine some elderly soul on a fixed income who has to choose between eating dog food or cutting her heart medicine pills in half. Now add to her misery that the DEP is forcing her to install an RP valve that might cost as much as $700 with annual testing and maintenance costs of up to $840, or else her water gets turned off. Is this the "of the people, by the people and for the people" country that our forefathers envisioned? Hardly!

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Reason 24: Plumbers charge whatever the traffic will bear for installing RPs.

This is from an Observer News article:

"In Sun City Center, another homeowner had a similarly unpleasant encounter with county personnel in connection with the backflow valve. Wendell Spencer, whose home also borders a lake, contacted the county department trying to locate a permit number related to a plumbing job done several years ago. In the course of the conversation, Spencer, who was not aware of the backflow valve ordinance, acknowledged his secondary watering system for irrigating his landscaping. He was not cited for any violation, he said, but the next day the plumber who did the original job appeared at the Spencer home, although no one in the family had contacted him. The local plumber wanted $695 to install a backflow valve and additional money to provide a camouflaging artificial rock, Spencer said."

It turned out that as soon as Spencer got off the phone, the Cross-connection Control Manager, who used to be a plumber, called his plumber friend and gave him the tip about Spencer's not having a backflow valve. Well, so much for the County's Code of Ethics!

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Reason 25: Annual RP testing and maintenance is expensive and often corrupt.

The University of Florida’s Center for Training, Research, and Education for Environmental Occupations (TREEO Center), who trains and certifies the Florida RP testers, released internal documents showing that the annual cost to a homeowner for testing and maintaining an RP valve ranges from $60 to over $840 and characterized some testers as “criminals” trying to “milk the system” by “ripping off the customers and charging criminal prices.” Testers have been known to consistently replace valves (more $) rather than repair them, or to “repair” the same valves, year-after-year. Testers have also been known to do “drive-by” inspections.

Three of the TREEO Center's documents can be viewed at www.suncitydave.info/Update-3.pdf.

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Reason 26: Requiring RPs is like scaring citizens into buying home water treatment systems.

Utilities are very concerned about complaints they receive from customers concerning the sales tactics of home water treatment system salesmen. My utility advises:

"It sounds like a great offer - fill out a card or return a phone call, and have your tap water tested - for free. Take that step, though, and what you're likely to get is a heavy-handed sales pitch to buy overpriced and unnecessary water treatment systems. ... Many complaints come from residents who are seniors, disabled or who have limited incomes - prime targets for salespeople who rely on scare tactics and high-pressure pitches."
Does this have a familiar ring to it? Isn't this the same sort of scam that DEP, with the backing of the plumbing interests, is laying on Floridians with the scare tactic that the threat from backflow contamination is so great that homeowners need to buy $700 backflow valves followed by annual testing and maintenance costs of $60 to $840?

Advocating home water treatment systems, RPs and snake oil are all on the same page of the "Scam Artist's Handbook".

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And there you have it!

RPs (and Double-check valves) are an expensive, impractical and illegal solution to a problem that simply doesn't exist.

An AMR/Dual-check combination is the only reasonable and intelligent choice for residential backflow protection.

Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) water meters.

Periodically throughout the previous Reasons, reference was made to "AMRs" which are the intelligent and safe alternative to RP valves. An AMR is an Automatic Meter Reading water meter, usually with an attached Dual-check valve. An AMR is located in the utility's easement just outside of each property and records the amount of forward and backflow water every 15 minutes, or oftener, and transmits the data to a passing vehicle or instantly to a central antenna.

The city of Dunedin, FL, has a very informative and user-friendly page for their customers about their recent changeover to AMRs.

AMRs are based on tried-and-true water meter components and are very low maintenance. AMRs are typically warranted for 10 to 20 years. And empirical testing by Palm Beach County has shown that Dual-check valves still protect against backflow even after ten or more years. And most importantly, an AMR/Dual-check valve combo is the only device that actually conforms with the requirements of being able to “detect” and “prevent” backflow. Contrast that with an RP which is so delicate, so unreliable and so prone to failure that it must be tested annually. And in between the yearly tests, it just sits there in a "failure to function properly" condition 25% of the time, according to the DEP. An RP can’t even detect if it’s broken and allowing backflow.

On the other hand, when an AMR reports that there is backflow, the problem is fixed within minutes or hours and has no reason to resurface. AMRs reduce the per meter reading cost from 54 cents to about 4 cents per. Because of the backflow caused by hot water tanks' thermal expansion, AMRs immediately detect a failed Dual-check valve. AMRs detect homeowners who are watering illegally during drought periods. AMRs detect bad toilet flapper valves that waste water. And to help conserve water, Dunedin even gives out "a special AMR Meter Magnet that you can place on your refrigerator. The magnet will display your meter reading and you'll be able to track how much water you actually use for showers, dishes and laundry."

AMR's are to water utilities what Mozart is to music!

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