Written by Sean Cleary 4:10 pm ASSE, Backflow Prevention

We Are the Change We Seek

A question I’m often asked is, “How can people in the cross-connection industry influence regulations in their jurisdictions to require the necessary testing of backflow prevention assemblies?” This is a puzzling situation since it’s clearly stated in all three model plumbing codes that this testing be completed when assemblies are installed, relocated, repaired, and, at a minimum, on an annual basis. Some jurisdictions do amend this language out – the state of Indiana, for example, takes the position that the code is for construction, not maintenance, so the code can’t require annual testing. However, this thinking is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to code adoption.

So, if it’s in the code, why isn’t the testing done? The simple answer is enforcement. The solution to the problem is anything but simple. In many areas, water suppliers do a good job in insisting that containment or point of service assemblies be tested and maintained on an annual basis. The supplier has the ultimate power to ensure the testing is completed. If it is not done, the water supplier can terminate the water service to the building or facility. Isolation assemblies or point of use assemblies are a totally different situation. Who enforces the code regulation requiring mandatory testing of this protection? In far too many areas, it is no one.

They say the first step in solving a problem is admitting it exists in the first place. In many locations, people don’t see the failure to test backflow prevention assemblies as a problem and they in truth may not even understand the need for cross-connection control within buildings or facilities. So, the industry has its work to do in making it clear to everyone involved that cross-connection control is vital to ensuring safe, clean drinking water for everyone. To start solving the problem, we first need to educate several groups about what backflow is, how it occurs, and how it is prevented.

To do this, the most important step may be for the cross-connection industry to begin working together instead of working against itself. What groups are stakeholders in our industry? Well, it’s the plumbers, pipefitters, sprinkler fitters, and the companies and contractors who employee them. It is the open shops and the union shops. That’s the group I’m most comfortable working with because that’s the part of the industry I came from. However, it is not the only group of individuals who should be working together. We also have the irrigation industry, along with water and wastewater operators, and public and private companies who supply the water and treat the discharge. We also have the designers and engineers who develop the plans for our buildings and infrastructure. We have valve manufacturers and listing agencies who have strong ties to many of our groups. We have code officials and inspectors, governmental officials and regulators, and elected politicians who all have a stake in what we are doing. Each of these stakeholder groups are important to the discussion. Too many times in these situations we put blinders on and only look at things from our own individual point of view. To be successful and make
long-term sustainable changes, we all need to understand and work toward a common goal.

There are several organizations that are already aware of this problem and may provide a starting point for people looking to ensure that testing and maintenance of backflow prevention takes place. ASSE International is one and the American Backflow Prevention Association (ABPA) is another. Getting involved with these groups on a national, regional, or local level can raise awareness of the issues and open doors for you to begin talking with other groups. Inspector organizations, rural water associations, and code developers, such as the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) or the International Code Council (ICC) and their chapters, may provide you with access to stakeholders to educate and become allies with in order to raise awareness about the importance of regular testing. A number of industry groups have come together with a position statement regarding the testing of assemblies. The statement can be viewed and downloaded at www.iapmodwbp.org/Documents/BPI_RapidResponse_Paper.pdf.

As I pointed out earlier, enforcement of existing regulations or passage of new regulations, along with strong enforcement of these regulations, is the greatest challenge we face. This will require public education, political courage, and a financial commitment. It will not happen overnight and will not be possible without a strong, sustained effort and commitment from a number of groups and individuals working together for public welfare. The fight has been won in the past and the accomplishments of some areas of the country can provide a blueprint for moving forward. The hardest steps are always the first ones. The secret is working together instead of against each other. The industry needs to get past fights about which test procedure is better or who should be allowed to install, repair, and test backflow prevention assemblies, and first convince the public that backflow prevention installation and testing is necessary and something the entire industry agrees on. Once we have crossed that bridge, then we can fine tune the rest of the issues. Do you think you can reach out to people in your jurisdiction and get the conservation started? I believe the different stakeholders may find that they agree on far more than they disagree.

As President Obama said,


President Barrack Obama

Article first published in Working Pressure magazine

Sean Cleary
 | Website

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