Backflow prevention devices are a key part of every irrigation system and are also used in pretty much every commercial building, apartment complex, fire suppression system etc. But many people have no idea what backflow prevention is or why it’s important. For many, it’s just something we tell you we checked when we do your start-up. This article will run you through a very basic premise of what backflow preventers are, why they’re used, and the importance of them.
What is it?
One of the most asked questions when we come out to certify a backflow preventer, “What is that thing?” Backflow preventers are quite simply there to stop the water from flowing backwards, that’s it. They stop any water that goes into your irrigation system from going back into your home water supply and then into the city water supply. They do this by using check valves that will only open when the water is flowing forwards through the device. There are many different devices that accomplish this same task but for the most part here in Calgary & surrounding areas, we use what are called DCVA’s or Double Check Valve Assemblies. This device is simple to install by a certified specialist and needs to be tested to ensure that it is working year over year. Yearly testing of the device is a requirement as per the national plumbing code.
Why are they Used?
The reason we use backflow prevention is rather simple, it can be very dangerous to have water flow back into the supply side. This is because of contaminants, which can take many different forms. One of the things that can be in the system is general debris, pieces of metal or plastic that come off of the inside of the pipes. This debris could potentially get stuck in the various pumps and valves that are on our water lines. The more dangerous elements, however, are biological or chemical. These are hazards that could come back into your drinking water and make you sick.
There are two common methods that could lead to this, the first is the use of fertilizer through an irrigation system, which isn’t a terribly common thing in Calgary. Unfortunately, the fertilizer can also seep into the lines through the sprinkler heads when they finish spraying water and have the same result. The other most common way is biological contamination. This can be by any number of different plants or fungi entering your sprinkler system in an untold number of ways. Through a leaking head base, through a flooded valve box, an overgrown head, to name just a few. This is all to say that backflow prevention is an essential part of an irrigation system, and in fact, required by law. It must be kept up to date and tested to ensure that your family and anyone else who could potentially be exposed to your tap water is safe.
Many people read about this and think well how common could this possibly be if I haven’t heard about it and it’s never been an issue for me? And that’s a totally understandable thing to think, unfortunately, it is more common than you think.
In 2016, Corpus Christi, Texas, had an incident due to backflow that could have been far worse. Thankfully the city acted quickly and further sickness or health concerns were avoided. An asphalt plant had a failure on their backflow prevention which led to hydrochloric acid being introduced into the water supply. Some residents had water to their houses shut off for up to four days.
In 2018, Eagle, Idaho, had an incident with a device being installed improperly which caused 20 people to become ill and receive medical attention. The device was meant to prevent irrigation water from mixing with potable water and caused an incident within the entire community.
These are just two examples of what happens when these devices fail and how incredibly important it is to ensure that they are working properly. Without well-maintained backflow prevention devices, we cannot be sure of our water quality. There is little in your house that could have such a high potential for danger as this.
The topic of backflow prevention usually creates a lot of questions. If you would like more information regarding backflow prevention on your system, please feel free to give us a call and we would be happy to answer your questions. We have certified technicians on staff that can help you through all you need to know about backflows. You can also check this out to find some great information from the City of Calgary about backflow prevention and all the legislation stuff that is too boring and tedious for us to cover off in this article.