This article is in no way meant to shame anyone involved, and no names are used other than the author. However, we felt it important to get this story out to shine a light on some issues that probably all of us know exist in the backflow prevention industry. This is an example of what can happen when we lose sight of our end goal as backflow professionals, and that is to protect the quality of our potable water.
“Dry testing”, or “drive-by testing” is the term used to describe a tester who submits a test report on a backflow assembly that they did not hook up their test equipment to in order to perform the inspection. This is a situation that should not happen, however, we all know that it unfortunately still takes place and can be extremely difficult to prove. The following situation occurred when an individual tester was attempting to help a friend out who was in financial difficulty. Unfortunately for this tester, everything spiraled downhill when one of them submitted a test report that was later discovered to be a drive-by test.
This particular situation started when I met a tester on site to verify the location and test details on three specific backflow assemblies. The first backflow (Backflow A) was in a locked cage to which no one knew the combination. The second backflow (Backflow B) was across the street from Backflow A and had a PVC ball valve installed for the number one shutoff valve. The third backflow (Backflow C) was a 3” backflow that would not stop leaking water out of the relief valve and failed the annual inspection. Backflows A & B had the water services disconnected the next morning due to non-compliance with annual testing requirements.
Approximately one week later, I received a passing test report from a different testing company than I had met on site, for Backflow C. This report did not list any repairs made to the relief valve. I reached out to the tester to check if there were any repairs made to the backflow assembly and he had failed to report them, because something seemed wrong with the test report. The tester stated that there were no repairs made and that the relief valve was not leaking when he arrived to test the assembly. While this seemed unlikely, turning the assembly on and off may have cleared any debris holding the relief valve open and allowed the assembly to pass the annual inspection. While speaking to the tester, he stated that he had also completed a passing test on Backflow B. I looked for the test report for Backflow B, however I was unable to locate a passing test report for it because the test report submitted was for Backflow A. I informed the tester that he had submitted the test report under the incorrect serial number. When confronted with this observation, the tester admitted to not verifying the serial number as these backflows switched locations constantly on this property. The tester stated that he was 100 percent certain he completed the test on the assembly with the PVC ball valve, Backflow B. At this point I informed the tester that it was unlikely that he had tested either Backflow A or B, due to the water services being disconnected prior to the alleged test date. The tester was adamant that he did indeed test this backflow and that there was still water through the backflow. To confirm the story, I drove to the property and verified that there was still no water going to the backflow and that my lock was still on the water meter. While I was on site, I also verified that the relief valve on Backflow C was still leaking water and had not been repaired.
Equipped with all the aforementioned information, I had no doubt in my mind that this particular tester was performing drive-by tests. I contacted the tester to inform him of my findings and in this moment the entire truth finally came to light. The tester had a friend that was not receiving enough hours at the company in which he was employed. The tester was paying his friend to test backflow assemblies under his certification information and his friend had gone to the location and said he tested the backflows. The friend did not want to use his certification number in order to prevent his company from finding out that he was testing on the side. I looked into the friend’s certification and discovered that he had never even passed the backflow tester certification process. The tester admitted to me that he was fraudulently entering test reports that someone else had conducted using his information.
While it was apparent that the tester was simply trying to help out a friend, he ultimately put his reputation and livelihood in jeopardy. We as municipalities are required to ensure that tests are completed by certified testers and when situations like this arise, it compromises the integrity of any distribution system. We all work very hard to ensure that safe drinking water is provided to all of our customers. This should never be jeopardized by those who choose to cut corners and do not take the responsibility of testing seriously. I was extremely fortunate to have caught this situation off one test report that excluded repairs that I knew needed to take place. May this also serve as an example to those that choose to cut corners, the rest of us are watching and eventually you will be caught.
Mark Uhland-Utilities Systems Specialist
City of Westminster, Colorado