What is a backflow preventer and why do I need it?

As a homeowner you have made a big investment. You are very specific how the interior is decorated to meet your needs. You may have already repainted, remodeled, reorganized multiple times to get it just right. We all do it. We pay much attention to what we see all the time. What we do not do is pay attention to the exterior of our home unless it’s in our focus. When we look at the exterior of our home we see landscape (bushes, grass, trees, flowers) and we address these on an as needed basis. Some may even have a landscape company tell you when it’s time to fertilize, plant, replant, water, etc. so we don’t need to know anything about it. The municipalities tell you when you can and cannot water to meet conservation efforts, so that’s less for you to be worried about. What has been ignored all along is your irrigation system. You as a homeowner need to especially be concerned with this system as it can be your greatest asset or your worst nightmare.

Irrigation systems are installed in most cases by licensed irrigators whom have been trained in the design and proper installation, operation and repair of such systems. Their license is regulated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (www.tceq.texas.gov/drinkingwater/irrigation). Does that mean that all companies that install irrigation systems have a licensed irrigator perform the work? No, it does not. You selected a home builder because of quality. You selected furniture, paint, and other items for your home because of quality and workmanship. You need to be just as selective about your irrigator. You can verify that an irrigator is licensed by clicking here. So what happens if I choose a irrigator that isn’t licensed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality? Several things can and usually happen. A backflow preventer is not installed, the hydraulics are not calculated so you have dead areas that do not get watered, piping that has repeated failures because of improper fusion, leaks causing high water bills, improperly wired controllers and valves, and more. Let’s talk about the backflow preventer.

What is a backflow preventer and why do I need it? A backflow prevention assembly is an assembly that prevents backflow into the potable water supply. Backflow is the undesirable reversal of flow of water or other substances into the potable water supply. The reversal of water can happen by either backpressure or backsiphonage. Backpressure is caused by pumps (auxiliary water supplied by pumps from wells, lakes, etc), higher elevation (system extends up a hill or other elevated area creating a higher pressure downward), steam pressure, air pressure, etc. Backsiphonage is created by a reduction of pressure (water line burst, high water use through a fire hydrant or other source) or a complete loss of pressure (shutting down a water main for repairs and you turn on a faucet in your home and it sucks air). So a backflow preventer is installed at the start of the system to prevent our potable water from being contaminated. What is in our irrigation system that could cause us such great concern? The sprinkler heads sit at or just under the ground level. We apply fertilizers, insecticides to our lawns and plants. Animals urinate and defecate on our lawns leaving bacteria such as E Coli. Parasites and other bacteria is found on or in our soils as well. All of these things can and do get backsiphoned into the irrigation system and the backflow prevention assembly, providing it’s working properly or installed at all, stops those contaminants from getting into our drinking water. What if the irrigator installed your pool fill line to the irrigation system? You most likely will not know until someone in the pool gets sick from the water. An un-licensed irrigation company will do a lot to skirt the laws and regulations designed to not only protect the consumer but the integrity of our water systems and the proper operation of an irrigation system that conserves water and maintains your beautiful landscape. A licensed irrigator has been trained to not only properly design but to also properly install and maintain your irrigation system.

Let’s say that you have a well that supplies the water to your home and/or irrigation system. That makes it all ok, correct? No, it doesn’t. A well, although not a potable water supply, is a water source that needs to be protected also. For many years it has been misconstrued that a well is pure and clean and what we do does not affect any other people. That is a false and misleading statement. A well is an access point to a water table whether shallow or deep. That water table could be small (hundreds of feet wide and deep) or very large (hundreds of miles wide and hundreds if not thousands of feet deep). What we do in one well can certainly affect others on that same water table. Assuming you have your irrigation system connected to a well and the well is not protected by a backflow prevention assembly you could potentially contaminate that well making that water un-usable.

As a homeowner, you need to be just as concerned about what is outside your home as much as the inside of your home. Assuming you just bought your home and the irrigation system was already there. What do I do now? There is a controller usually installed in the garage area. Open it and there should be a sticker showing whom the installer was. If it is a manual controller the sticker will be attached to the maintenance manual.  Go to this link to verify they are licensed by the TCEQ. Contact that Irrigator for a demonstration on the operation of your new system and how to turn it off and winterize should the weather dictate.

“Irrigation in Texas is regulated by the Texas Commission On Environmental Quality (TCEQ) (MC-178), P.O. Box 13087, Austin, Texas 78711-3087. TCEQ’s web site is: www.tceq.texas.gov.”

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