I was running through the sprinkler the other day as part of an in-depth backflow/water-quality study when my research was interrupted by the office manager responding to complaints from alarmed employees who obviously don’t appreciate science. What may have appeared to the untrained eye as some half-naked fat guy wandering around in the yard was in fact an appropriately dressed professional going that extra mile to produce a comprehensive water assessment for his client.
I explained that I only offer this exclusive service to preferred customers on really hot days as a refreshing, real-life cross-connection/water quality test of their irrigation system. We decided that future actions will be limited to standard test procedures.
Look, smell, and taste
There is more to water quality than simply being free of contaminants. In fact, there are provincial regulations that dictate how municipally supplied water must look, smell and taste. Waterloo region is doing its part to improve the aesthetic properties of our domestic water supply by increasing its iron and manganese removal capabilities. The new provincial limit for manganese content reduces the acceptable level to 0.02 ppml from 0.05, and that means a costly new facility on a new site for Kitchener/Waterloo. As luck would have it, we source our water from artesian wells which have very high mineral content so after purification of the raw water, there is still much to be done to make this essential and expensive product appealing to the customer. There isn’t enough capacity at the existing facility to handle this city’s ever-growing needs so build we must.
After all the extensive treatment, this most precious resource is simply dumped into a common underground conduit that permits the flow of whatever, wherever. How bizarre. If even one user along the delivery route produces unchecked higher pressure than the supply, the flow direction is disrupted and water purity can no longer be assured for anyone. That’s a big problem.
Mandatory premise isolation and a regulated inspection program is the only solution considering the importance and fragility of the product we produce.
I know we are doing a great job implementing and maintaining our backflow program here in the twin cities because of my involvement with local officials, the Ontario Water Works Association (OWWA) and the Ontario Backflow Prevention Association (OBPA) but mostly because I drink a lot of tap water. It looks, tastes and smells great. It feels good too like water should.
Basic human right
Clean water is a basic human right according to logic and the United Nations, yet millions of people go without it. It’s not a “long ago and far-away” problem either. Long-term boiled water advisories are in effect for large populations of Canadians right now.
Surely potable water is a cause that could unite all the people of our country and the world in a global effort for the common good of every Earthling. As a tree-hugging hippy from the sixties, my interest in protecting Mother Earth and helping my fellow man goes beyond making a buck in the business of selling clean water.
I’m not the only one out there fighting the good fight. Every year, I get my backflow test kit recalibrated at the Cameron Instruments laboratory in Guelph, Ont. I never knew how they tested the testers.
As part of a very interesting tour of their facilities, I got to see where the magic happens. A new and exciting development for the industry—the Mako digital backflow tester. They asked me to do a product test and I found it to be a quality unit which was capable as any of my current devices. I hoped to WOW all my classmates at my re- re-certification course but all of them were already familiar with the unit and many of them had purchased their own kits and brought them to class too, ruining my surprise. Good news travels fast.
The numbers are clear and easy to see and are not subject to technician interpretation, bias or interference. The screen displays the exact reading and that information can be recorded and stored which is a great leap forward in this line of work.
I have a Wilkins gauge style test kit and I brought it to class too. It has served me well for more than ten years and I expect it will continue to return accurate results as an on-site diagnostic tool long into the future.
Back to the future
Software is in development that will connect the unit to the internet for direct information transfer to all relevant parties. I think this is its most important feature. For me, the hardest part of doing this kind of work was communicating the information to the water purveyor.
I hand submitted my reports pre-pandemic and all was well. It took a little longer but I liked kibitzing with those fine folks and I was sure they got those reports. Since the pandemic, I’ve had some trouble in that department and no doubt my computer skills are to blame. My clients don’t appreciate getting nasty letters from the city demanding reports they’ve already paid for but were not actually received on the other end. To be completely honest, I don’t like it much either. The data will be available for each party to pick and choose the relevant information to their program format as many municipalities have different requirements.
As a contractor, I would find it useful for file sharing and reporting but it would help me schedule annual testing too. I can see great potential for better long-term system analysis as well. Trends can be detected and addressed before they become serious problems and that’s something every person connected to that common lifeline should be concerned about.
We are, after all, talking about the most important commodity there is in the whole universe—clean drinking water. Let’s get serious.