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Answering FAQs About Backflow Prevention

Smart Earth Van - Answering FAQs About Backflow Prevention

When it comes to managing your sprinkler systems and other smart irrigation systems, one aspect that you need to consider seriously is the health of your backflow prevention assembly.

What Is Backflow?

Backflow refers to the unwanted flow of water or other liquids, gasses, or substances into the distribution pipes of a potable water supply system from any source other than the intended one. This can occur when there is a loss of pressure in the primary supply system or a cross-connection between the main supply and a contaminated source. Backflow can also occur when a backflow preventer device fails or is not properly installed. 

Why Is Backflow Dangerous?

Backflow can be dangerous because it can potentially cause contamination of the home and city potable water supply, which can lead to serious health hazards for the people who consume the water. 

When water flows in the opposite direction from its intended flow, it can allow contaminants from various sources, like irrigation systems, industrial processes, or other non-potable water sources to flow into the potable water supply. Some examples of these contaminants include pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals, bacteria, viruses, and other harmful substances.

Consuming contaminated water can cause a variety of health problems, including diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, and other digestive problems. In some cases, consuming contaminated water can also cause more serious health problems, such as neurological disorders, birth defects, and even death.

Another reason backflow is dangerous is that it can also cause corrosion and wear on pipes, valves, and pumps, causing them to fail. It can also cause damage to equipment that is connected to the water supply.

Should Backflow Systems Be Tested?

Backflow systems, specifically backflow preventers, should be tested periodically to ensure that they are functioning properly and to identify any potential issues early on. The frequency of testing required for backflow preventers varies depending on the type of system and the potential risk of contamination, but it is generally recommended to test them at least annually.

Some cities require backflow systems to be tested on a regular basis, with regulations that dictate who is allowed to test them, how they are tested, what results are acceptable, as well as when they need to be repaired or replaced.

The city of Austin, for example, has regulations for backflow prevention enforced by the Austin Water Utility. The Austin Water Utility requires that all commercial, industrial, and institutional customers have a backflow prevention device installed on the customer side of the water meter, as well as regular testing and maintenance of the device. The backflow preventers must be tested at least once a year, with the test reports submitted to the utility. 

Should Backflow Preventers Be Insulated During Winter?

The piping or plumbing connected to the backflow preventer ‒ especially if it is located in exposed areas should be insulated to prevent heat loss and freezing. The Backflow Device itself can be wrapped and insulated however it should be inspected periodically for leaks and corrosion. The best freeze prevention for a backflow device is to use an Insulated backflow pouch or a “Hotbox.” The “Hotbox” is a insulated fiber glass box that retains heat. The “Hotbox” does not work in all application due to its size and complexity to install. We find the Insulated pouch to be the most effective way to prevent freeze damage.

What Are The Laws Surrounding Backflow Systems In Texas?

The laws and regulations surrounding backflow in Texas are determined by individual municipalities and water districts, but most of them have some kind of backflow prevention program in place. 

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) also sets regulations and standards for backflow prevention in the state, which are generally consistent with the American Water Works Association and the American Society of Sanitary Engineering standards.

In Texas, it is required that all public water systems have a Cross Connection Control (CCC) program, which is designed to prevent contamination of the public water supply through the installation and maintenance of backflow prevention devices. The CCC program requires that all commercial and industrial customers have a backflow prevention device installed on the customer side of the water meter. It also requires testing and maintenance of the device.

All sprinkler systems in Texas and most states are required to have a backflow device. 

Depending on the city/water district they have different requirements for the types of backflow devices and they can set their own requirements for how often they are to be tested.

Backflow Testing Requirements for City of Austin and Round Rock

By Texas and local codes ALL backflows have to be tested upon installation. 

  • Annual testing is required on all devices that are considered high hazard systems (example: fertilizer injection systems, systems with pumps, Rainwater systems) that is because these devices have a high probability of contaminating the water source. 
  • Typical irrigation backflows, the city sets the requirements for how often. Some cities have no requirements after the first initial test at installation. 

The two major districts we work with have requirements as follows:

  • City of Austin/Austin Water: Annual Testing is required on all high hazard devices. Currently there are no requirements for low hazard backflow devices, however we do still recommend testing at least every 5 years. The internal parts that protect the water are rubber and wear out. 
  • City of Round Rock / Round Rock Water: Annual Test on high hazard devices. Low hazards devices including irrigation are required to be tested every seven years. The city sends notices to addresses they have a record of having a backflow device. 
  • Pool auto fill backflows are the only devices that should be connected at a hose bib. Pool backflows are required to be tested annually in all districts. All pools have pumps and chemicals which classify the device as high hazard. 
  • Irrigation should never be connected to a hose bib. Not just because of the backflow risk, but because a hose bib can not supply enough volume of water to run a sprinkler system properly. The internal diameter of a hose bib is less than 1/4” and restricts the flow volume. 

Who May Test Backflow Preventers?

The TCEQ requires certain individuals to hold a Backflow Prevention License to test, repair backflow prevention assemblies.

It is important for commercial, industrial, and institutional customers to keep their backflow prevention systems up to date and maintain records of inspections and test results to avoid penalties and potential fines for non-compliance with the regulations. Domestic water users could also face penalties for failing to manage their backflow assemblies adequately.

We at Smart Earth Sprinklers are certified to do backflow testing in Austin, along with an array of sprinkler system repairs and maintenance. Contact us now to arrange a callout!

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