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Hard-working city employees make sure water is safe

Hard-working city employees make sure water is safe

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I want to thank Bill Vaughan, director of public utilities, for authoring this month’s Statesville column. He takes on a topic concerning water quality that many have not heard of, but I think you’ll find very helpful. Take it away Bill.

Have you ever wondered, as you drive around town, what all those rectangular boxes are near the curb or next to the sidewalk? Most are a shade of green or brown. Many are hidden in flower beds or with the shrubs. Well, those little boxes provide protection for a device that provides protection for you. Inside those boxes you will find pipes and valves in what is known as a backflow assembly. You may wonder what it does, what it’s for. The name is very descriptive: backflow.

The folks down at the water treatment plant go to great ends, “twenty-four/seven/365,” to assure that you have safe and clean water when you turn on the tap. Wouldn’t it be a waste if something happened to make all that effort meaningless, if the water was contaminated after it was sent down the line to you?

That’s what the backflow assembly, or backflow preventer as it’s called, is for. You see, there is a danger of water being back-siphoned into the distribution system when certain events occur, such as a waterline break that drains lines or the fire department’s use of hydrants to fight a fire.

Many businesses utilize chemicals in their various production processes that cause harm to human health if accidentally introduced into the drinking water system. Building sprinkler systems, of necessity, have water that sits and stagnates.

But not to fear. The city has a process to ensure that such contamination events do not occur, and it’s our backflow/cross-connection prevention program. The program is regulated by City Code and is found at Chapter 23, Article VIII, Sections 23-301 through 23-307 (you can find it on the city website if curious).

Last July new regulations were put in place by the state to update the program and the city in turn updated the code to reflect the updated requirements. In short, the city, by updating the code, assured that we remained in compliance with the atate regulations found in the North Carolina Drinking Water Act, and, by extension, the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Assuring that the water supply remains safe is no small task: there are over 1,200 devices currently overseen by the city. More are constantly being added: new businesses arrive, or current needs are identified, or a citizen decides to add an irrigation system to their property.

City staff assures that the customer has each assembly tested annually and that it is operating properly. In fact, given the scope and importance of the program to your health and well-being, City Council, in this year’s budget, authorized adding a technician to the program, bringing the oversight staff to a total of two employees – that’s a lot of responsibility for just two people. They monitor test submittal compliance, perform inspections, and coordinate with contractors and plumbers every day. They are truly unsung heroes, assuring that all the regulatory paperwork is in order and in place and each backflow preventor is operating properly.

All of this goes on every day and most folks are not even aware – they accept as a matter of fact that the water is safe to drink, never giving a thought about all the things that go into making and keeping it that way. So, the next time you see one of those boxes, think about all of the unseen things that go on to assure that your drinking water is safe and maybe even give a silent “thank-you” to the hard working city employees who, as Captain Picard says, “make it so.”

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