As 2019 ends, it’s a good time to reflect on what we have accomplished over the past 12 months and what we look forward to doing in the year 2020. It has been a busy year, and as I write this column, I am in Greenland finishing a backflow tester training class near the top of the world. It is dark here 24 hours a day during this time of year and the temperature is currently -23 ºF with a wind chill effect of -33 ºF. The mechanical and plumbing systems in place here are amazing and allow individuals to live and work for prolonged periods of time in an environment that is unforgiving, to say the least. This is my second visit to this location, and I must confess that when I arrive at my next class location in Baton Rouge, La., I will welcome the higher temperatures. However, one thing is constant in both locations – the need for an aggressive cross-connection control program to ensure that clean, safe potable water is available for people living or working in the jurisdiction.
In my mind, the one point I keep going back to is the need for a focus on establishing, expanding, and maintaining strong cross-connection programs. That is where my energy was directed in 2019 and where it will be in 2020. Opening markets in new areas for our training programs is part of that focus. Depending on the area where you live and the cross-connection program that exists, you may find it hard to believe that there are jurisdictions where no type of program is in place. I try to follow and research as many reported backflow incidents as possible. This allows me to point out that the problem does exist, and at times, it may exist in your own backyard. Safe drinking water is a topic we need to be proactive on, not reactive. We are in the backflow prevention business, not the backflow reporting business. Think of ASSE International’s motto, “Prevention Rather Than Cure.” We need to put things in place to ensure that bad things don’t happen. There is no glory moment in cross-connection control; we are not riding in on white horses to fix a problem, we are taking steps to ensure that a problem never occurs.
It comes down to education. Education of consumers, education of policy and lawmakers, and education of the plumbing and water industries, along with other related fields. Does it make more sense to spend your time and treasure trying to create a monopoly in your jurisdiction as to what certification program is accepted or what test procedure is being used? Or does it make more sense to work together with others in the industry to make sure backflow assemblies are being installed where they are needed and tested on an annual basis? Perhaps making sure site surveys are conducted on a regular basis or launching a public outreach campaign about the importance of installing the proper protection on hose bibbs in residential settings are goals for the new year? Another idea may be to reach out to your local building department to set up a seminar for their plumbing and mechanical inspectors so that they have a better idea of the proper selection and installation of backflow protection within the facilities they inspect. If the jurisdiction is using third-party inspection companies, you may find them open to having you sit down with their people in both inspection and plan review to discuss cross-connection control requirements. The same idea goes for trade and technical schools. When I was an apprentice instructor, I always tried to get someone from the local water company to come in and talk about their cross-connection program to our apprentice classes when we were going over water systems. Information is the key, and by reaching out to people and building relationships, we can advance the cause and get people to work with us instead of against us.
As we look to the new year, let’s make a few New Year’s resolutions. But let’s try to make ones we will keep. Here are a couple suggestions to get the ball rolling:
Become an active member of an industry group committed to protecting our water supply.
Make a promise to work with a charity that is trying to improve the quality of life by ensuring access to clean water and sanitation.
Plumbers Without Borders, IAPMO’s IWISH Foundation, Red Cross, WATER.ORG, and several other organizations are working to ensure that access to clean, safe drinking water is available to every citizen on our planet. I believe that having clean, safe drinking water available to each and everyone should be a basic human right. Hopefully that is something we can all support.
Move forward into the new year trying to embrace new ideas and keep an open mind moving forward – the world will be a better place for all of us. To all of our readers: enjoy this holiday season, spend time with your family, and have a Happy New Year. Talk to you again in 2020.
Article first published in Working Pressure magazine
Sean Cleary has been a member of United Association Local 524 Scranton, Pa. for more than 40 years. He has worked in all phases of the plumbing and mechanical industry, and is a licensed master plumber. Cleary is a past president of ASSE International and past chairman of the ASSE Cross-Connection Control Technical Committee. He is employed by IAPMO as the vice president of operations for the Backflow Prevention Institute (BPI).
Last modified: December 19, 2023