Protecting our Public Water System
What is a cross-connection?
Any physical connection created between a possible source of contamination and any drinking water system piping.
What is backflow?
It is the flow through a cross-connection from a possible source of contamination back into the drinking water system. It occurs when a cross-connection is created and a pressure reversal, either as backsiphonage or backpressure, occurs in the water supply piping.
Why be concerned?
- ALL cross-connections pose a potential health risk.
- Backflow can be a health hazard for your family or other consumers if contaminated water enters your water supply plumbing system and is used for drinking, cooking, or bathing. Chemical burns, fires, explosions, poisonings, illness, and death have all been caused by backflow through cross-connections.
- Backflow occurs more often than you think.
- You are legally responsible for protecting your water supply plumbing from backflow that may contaminate drinking water, either your own or someone else’s. This includes complying with the plumbing code and not creating cross-connections.
What causes backsiphonage?
Backsiphonage occurs when there is a loss of pressure in a piping system. This can occur if the water supply pressure is lost or falls to a level lower than the source of contamination. This condition, which is similar to drinking from a glass with a straw, allows liquids to be siphoned back into the distribution system
What causes backpressure?
Backpressure occurs when a higher opposing pressure is applied against the public water system’s pressure. This condition allows undesirable gases or liquids from another system to enter the drinking water supply. Any pumping system (such as a well pump) or pressurized system (such as steam or hot water boilers) can exert backpressure when cross-connected with the public water system.
What are some common backflow hazards that threaten the homeowner and other consumers?
- Hose connections to chemical solution aspirators to feed lawn and shrub herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.
- Lawn irrigation systems.
- Chemically treated heating systems.
- Hose connections to a water outlet or laundry tub.
- Swimming pools, hot tubs, spas.
- Private and/or non-potable water supplies located on the property.
- Water-operated sump drain devices.
- Feed lots/livestock holding areas or barnyards fed through pipes or hoses from your water supply plumbing.
What are examples of cross-connection and backflow scenarios?
- Soapy water or other cleaning compounds backsiphon into the water supply plumbing through a faucet or hose submerged in a bucket or laundry basin.
- Pool water backsiphons into the water supply plumbing through a hose submerged in a swimming pool.
- Fertilizers/pesticides backsiphon into the water supply plumbing through a garden hose attached to a fertilizer/pesticide sprayer.
- Chemicals/pesticides and animal feces drawn into the water supply plumbing from a lawn irrigation system with submerged nozzles.
- Bacteria/chemicals/additives in a boiler system backsiphon into the water supply plumbing.
- Unsafe water pumped from a private well applies backpressure and contaminates the public water supply through a connection between the private well discharge and the potable water supply plumbing
What can I do?
- Be aware of and eliminate cross-connections.
- Maintain air gaps. Do not submerge hoses or place them where they could become submerged.
- Use hose bib vacuum breakers on fixtures (hose connections in the basement, laundry room and outside).
- Install approved, testable backflow preventers on lawn irrigation systems.
Do not create a connection between an auxiliary water system (well, cistern, body of water) and the water supply plumbing.
What must be done to protect the public water system?
The public water supplier must determine potential and actual hazards. If a hazard exists at a customer’s public water supply service connection, the customer will be required to install and maintain an appropriate backflow preventer* at the meter and/or at the source of the hazard.
*Check with your water supplier to verify which backflow preventer is required before purchase or installation.
Who is responsible?
In Ohio, the responsibility for preventing backflow is divided. In general, state and local plumbing inspectors have authority over plumbing systems within buildings while Ohio EPA and water suppliers regulate protection of the distribution system at each service connection.
Water customers have the ultimate responsibility for properly maintaining their plumbing systems. It is the homeowner’s or other customer’s responsibility to ensure that cross-connections are not created and that any required backflow preventers are tested yearly and are in operable condition.
What is the law?
Ohio Administrative Code Chapter 3745-95 requires the public water supplier to protect the public water system from cross-connections and prevent backflow situations. The public water supplier must conduct cross-connection control inspections of their water customers’ property to evaluate hazards. Local ordinances or water department regulations may also exist and must be followed in addition to state regulations. If a potential or actual cross-connection contamination hazard is identified, the customer will be required to eliminate the hazard and/or install an appropriate backflow preventer at the service connection and/or at the hazard.
Auxiliary Water Systems
What is an auxiliary water system?
It is any water system on or available to your property other than the public water system. Used water or water from wells, cisterns, or open reservoirs that are equipped with pumps or other sources of pressure, including gravity are examples.
What protection is required?
- The auxiliary water system must be completely separated from water supply plumbing served by a public water system; and
- An approved backflow preventer must be installed at the service connection (where the public water system connects to the customer’s plumbing system).
- The auxiliary water system must be eliminated.
Are there exceptions?
At their discretion, the water supplier may waive the requirement for a backflow preventer at the service connection if all the following conditions are met:
- All components of the auxiliary water system, including pumps, pressure tanks and piping, are removed from the premises, which are defined as all buildings, dwellings, structures or areas with water supply plumbing connected to the public water system.
- The possibility of connecting the auxiliary water system to the water supply plumbing is determined by the water supplier to be extremely low.
- No other hazards exist.
- The customer enters into a contract with the water supplier, as described below.
- To understand the potential hazard of a cross-connection.
- To never create a cross-connection between the auxiliary water system and the public water system.
- To allow an inspector to survey their property for hazards as long as the contract is in effect.
- To face loss of service and other penalties if the contract is violated.
The water supplier must perform an annual inspection of the customer’s contract-regulated property to verify the conditions have not changed, which would warrant installation of a backflow preventer. The water supplier must, by law, do everything reasonably possible to protect the water system from contamination.
What is the concern?
Booster pumps connected to plumbing systems or water mains can cause backsiphonage by reducing the water mains. The following requirements are in place to help prevent backsiphonage:
- Booster pumps, not used for fire suppression, must be equipped with a low suction cut-off switch that is tested and certified every year;
- Alternately, when a booster pump is necessary for one-, two- and three-family dwellings, it is preferred that the booster pump draw from a surge tank filled through an air gap;
- Booster pumps, used in a fire suppression system, must be equipped with either a low suction throttling valve on the discharge side or be equipped with a variable speed suction limiting control system. Low-pressure cut-off devices will suffice for fire pumps installed prior to August 8, 2008, until a significant modification is warranted, at which point the minimum pressure sustaining method must be updated. Each of these methods must be tested and certified each year.
Questions concerning backflow prevention and cross-connection control may be directed to Water Plant Superintendent
Jason Rose at 937-864-7870
Questions regarding internal plumbing in the home may be directed to your local plumbing authority or to the Ohio Department of Commerce, Plumbing Administrator, at 614-644-3153.