City hopes to resolve issues with cross-connection holdouts

Friday, November 26, 2004

A called meeting of Dyersburg aldermen and public works employees involved with the city's cross-connection program was held Wednesday in hopes of resolving disputes with the few remaining businesses that have yet to install backflow preventers.

These safety devices are designed to keep contaminated water out of the city's fresh-water system. The city has an ordinance in place that requires these to be installed by a certified plumber, a process that can cost a company as much as $500. Recently, the head of the cross-connection program, David Rice, sent out letters warning that businesses refusing to comply with the ordinance could face having their water shut off after Dec. 17, which sparked a flurry of complaints from some business owners.

Backflow is a reversal of water flow in a system. It usually occurs when water pressure drops in the main line and sucks contaminants back into feeder pipes. The effect is the same as siphoning gasoline from a car tank using a hose.

The city board asked public works to focus on local businesses considered "high risk" for potential contamination, requiring that they install commercial-grade backflow preventers. Rice identified over 600 businesses in that category.

The Cross-Connection Committee, which included Mayor Bill Revell, Alderman Lewis Norman and Alderman Freeman Dudley, was told by Rice that 575 businesses had already complied with the ordinance leaving only 55 outstanding in the high-risk category. Of those, 20 had installed the devices since receiving the letter and others were in the middle of the installation process, awaiting availability of plumbers.

The committee advised public works to engage in private negotiations with any holdouts and take into consideration possible extenuating circumstances that might extend the deadline for installation of the devices beyond Dec. 17.

"The city has passed the ordinance and we are going to enforce it," said city recorder Gleyn Twilla. "But we are going to try and accomplish this in as painless a manner as possible.

Twilla pointed out that in order to reduce costs to local business owners, the city has undertaken a program to have city employees make the required annual inspections of commercial backflow devices at no charge. This is a savings of $45 to $50 annually.

Rice explained that the City of Dyersburg is required by the Tennessee Natural Resource Conservation Commission to eliminate cross connections and maintain a program to prevent such events from happening.

"This is a big issue as far as safety of water is concerned," Rice said. "When water comes from our treatment plant, it is the safest in Tennessee. We want to keep it that way."

Preventing contamination of city drinking-water supplies caused by a siphoning effect is no new concern for public works authorities. At the Chicago World's Fair in 1933, an epidemic of dysentery made 800 people sick and killed 40. The outbreak was caused by back siphonage at a hotel. The topic has been addressed in the Dyersburg building codes since the 1950s, but in 1999, as state and federal agencies began to more closely monitor water safety, standards tightened. Dyersburg has a 17-page ordinance addressing the subject.

State law gives a municipal authority the right to cut customers off the system if they refuse to comply with the water safety code. Rice said that is a threat he has never had to make good on so far.

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