Scottsdale Water Resources changes internal backflow testing policy

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story did not accurately represent the city of Scottsdale’s responsibility in regard to internal backlflow assemblies. We apologize for any confusion this caused.

The Scottsdale Water Resources Division sent out notices to backflow prevention assemblies in late June stating the end to mandatory submission of annual testing reports on internal backflow assemblies.

Many internal backflow assemblies are under the jurisdiction of the Maricopa County Department of Health, according to Scottsdale Water Public Information Officer Nicole Sherbert.

“The change in the Cross-Connection Control program relates only to internal backflow assemblies. The term ‘internal’ is meant to represent assemblies that are after the external assembly and are often inside businesses and connected to privately-owned plumbing components, not to the city’s water supply,” Ms. Sherbert said in a July 16 e-mail.

There was no change made to the city’s handling of external backflow assemblies. The Cross-Connection Control Program began in 1991 as a response to new requirements in the state, according to

“The program, administered through Water Operations Services, works to keep the water supply safe from contaminants that could be introduced into the water system through backflow, backsiphonage or backpressure from a customer’s plumbing system,” the city website states.

In the past, the city sent annual reminders to have the internal backflow assemblies tested and annual test report submissions were required. Now, reminders will not be sent by the city and the city will not require submitted reports on the internal assemblies.

Ms. Sherbert says Scottsdale Water has a database that contains all of the external backflow assemblies attached to the city’s water system. She says the database contained many, but not all of the internal backflow assemblies throughout the city.

“In the past, Scottsdale Water sent annual letters to all businesses in the database reminding them to test their assemblies,” Ms. Sherbert said. “Therefore, if Scottsdale Water was made aware of an internal assembly at the time of new construction or tenant improvement, they were added to the database and received an annual letter to have their assembly tested.”

“This practice was (a) inconsistent because we were not made aware of all internal assemblies and therefore were not sending letters to all businesses, only those that were in our database, and (b) redundant since the county has oversight of many of these privately owned plumbing components, which do not connect directly to the city’s water supply.”

Walt Merly, an operations manager at Contractor Fire Protection Inc. in Mesa, says he worries businesses will neglect to check their backflows now that they are not being required by the city to send in annual tests.

“Any business that isn’t being told or governed to be doing something probably is not going to do it,” Mr. Merly said in a July 13 phone interview.

A backflow testing costs about $40 to do, and the city of Scottsdale has list of city-approved backflow testers online. The backflow assemblies help prevent water contamination.

“When you turn the faucet, the water comes out. But if there’s a water main break, the water that’s in everybody’s building or homes is like electricity — it wants to follow the path of least resistance,” Mr. Merly said. “In essence, it can go back into that city main. Once they repair the city main and turn that back on, then all of that contamination is spread throughout everybody’s pipes. That’s, in a nutshell, why they require a backflow at each particular source.”

Other than Mr. Merly, Ms. Sherbert says, to her knowledge, the city has not heard of any other concern over the policy change.

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