Two Wrongs Do Not Make a Right: Good Intentions Lead to a Costly Mistake

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

Region 5 Director’s Update:

In the dual role of Region 5 Director for the ABPA and the Vice President of the CBPA I can say that I have been very busy lately…, but as an industry professional in the great state of Colorado I can tell you that I have been REALLY, REALLY busy over the past several months. In fact, I thought about just writing,…All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy…. OK, I think you get the point especially if you know your Stephen King. We have all been incredibly busy. Most of you are aware that due to recent CDPH&E Regulation (and Policy and Guidance) changes we have all been running our tails off trying to keep up, testers and purveyors alike. It has been (and will continue to be) a lot of work but we should remember that as we continue to strengthen cross connection control in our distribution systems across the state, we will GREATLY lessen the potential impacts of backflow incidents. There is one concern I have regarding recent changes, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
I had the privilege to speak at the ABPA National Conference in April in San Antonio, Texas. Gathered at this meeting were a wide variety of industry professionals from all over our country and even a few regulators from Canada and Australia. I sat on a panel with these and other regulators and spoke about regulatory challenges. I spoke as well to nearly a hundred professionals regarding the state of the recent regulation changes in Colorado and challenges we are facing here.
A month or so before the conference a large-scale backflow contamination incident was reported in the city of Corpus Christi, Texas. According to reports, an asphalt manufacturing company contaminated the city distribution lines with Indulin AA-86 and hydrochloric acid. Texas DEQ declined to comment at the time and we anxiously await more information. That incident was I believe the 4th or 5th water advisory that Corpus Christi has had within 2 years and not the only one attributed to backflow.
My point is that incidents happen and more happen than we get to hear about. Actual and potential threats from cross connections exist and will continue to cause incidents. My concern is that in our mad rush to keep up with the state changes both as testers and regulators, it is easy to lose sight of the bottom-line, which is that we MUST keep water quality as our number one priority. While we focus our minds and efforts on filling databases and meeting compliance ratios, we risk commoditizing the entire industry.             Understanding and education can be marginalized as we chase the almighty dollar or avoid a violation. I have heard a number of worrisome things on the “ground level” and have noticed an overall lack of interest in confronting some of these problems. The article on drive-by testing in this issue (of the CBPA Newsletter. Article to be published here soon.) is only one example.  I urge everyone in the industry in this state to become more involved in organizations such as this one and continue pushing for education and competency. Only by placing value on education will we continue to keep water quality as our number one priority and maintain the integrity of our industry.

By Jesse Bockhouse
ABPA Region 5 Director
CBPA Vice President

A Proctor Training date has been set for October 7, 2017

Attention ABPA Testers and Proctors:
Mark your calendars!

This training session will be held at Backflow Consulting, Testing and Repair Inc. beginning at 8am. It is scheduled to last until 4-5pm.
CBPA President Charlie Sullivan has been working with the ABPA Certification Committee to set a recurring schedule for Proctor Training.

The first Saturday in October will be the recurring date each year for this training session.
Please mark your calendars!
In order to become an ABPA Proctor you must hold an ABPA Tester Certification and have re-certified at least once. Additional information can be found at abpa.org or by contacting info@backflow.org

A Word Of Warning To Backflow Testers

By Charlie Sullivan

The Colorado Department of Public Safety, Division of Fire Prevention and Control, requires that all individuals and or companies testing, repairing, or installing a backflow device on a fire sprinkler system be registered with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.  The requirement has been in place for several years.  Over the last few years there have been some significant changes to the requirements, i.e. tagging of systems (this is a big one), main drain test vs draining a system, etc.  The current requirements can be found in 8 CCR 1507-11 which has been effective since May 15, 2016.  It is your job as a backflow tester performing services on a fire sprinkler system to be knowledgeable of the requirements.  The complete text can be found at the following link:

http://www.sos.state.co.us/CCR/GenerateRulePdf.do?ruleVersionId=6758&fileName=8%20CCR%201507-11

As outlined in 8 CCR 1507-11, Fire Suppression Program, you would be required to register as a Fire Suppression System Contractor – Backflow, which is defined as, “Individuals or companies conducting installation, maintenance, service or testing of backflow prevention devices installed on fire sprinkler systems”.

The testing company and or individual need to be particularly aware of the requirements in Sections 3, 6, 7, and 8.   The Division of Fire Prevention and Control is actively pursuing unregistered backflow testers working on fire systems, issuing warnings to register immediately, actively following up on complaints, and if necessary taking legal action through the courts in regards to repeat offenders.  The cost of registering with the state will greatly outweigh the cost of a court date.

Region 5 Director’s Winter Report

By Fred Spengler

This year has been quite a ride for the American Backflow Prevention Association (ABPA).  But as we move into 2017 there is reason to be optimistic for the future.  The organization has moved to a different management company which should help with membership & the newsletter/magazine.

The next big national event is the Backflow & Cross Connection Trade Show to be held in San Antonio Texas on April 3rd through the 5th.  If you have the chance, this is a must go-to event.  The venue is right on the River Walk and just a couple of blocks from the Alamo.  But more important: The seminars will be worth the trip, with two Colorado speakers (Your CBPA President and Vice President) speaking on backflow issues on fire systems and regulations.  Add the other seminar topics and your chance to talk with vendors from all segments of the industry and this event is well worth your time.

Membership and benefits will be the emphasis for this coming year so expect lots of communication from National to you, the membership.

On a local level, I want to encourage all who receive this to become or retain your CBPA membership or, if you reside in Utah, your Utah Chapter membership.  Once a member, actively participate, if only to attend scheduled events.  Of course, there is always need for volunteers.  Please step up and support ABPA’s mission of providing information and education.

The Colorado Backflow Prevention Association (CBPA) will be hosting an event in mid-April (Details in the newsletter) that will discuss fire sprinkler system requirements and an open forum on implementing the new State Regulation 11.39.

Utah Chapter will be hosting their annual conference on February 3, 2017. (Check the website for information)

New Website Coming!

Just a quick note to let everyone know to be on the lookout for our new website, coming soon! We have been in a transition period with our website, http://www.backflow.org, hence this temporary blog. Our new and improved website, after moving to a new domain host, should be up and running soon. It will be the same web address as before, http://www.backflow.org, but it will be using the format found here on this WordPress blog, hopefully with some improvements in functionality. Stay tuned!