Installation timetable concerns raised
In theory, it’s a simple check valve.
But in reality it can be a big bill.
Building owners in Antigonish are finding that out as they receive letters from the town threatening to cut off their water supplies if they don’t install ‘backflow prevention devices.’
And if you own a building — even a home — that’s connected to a municipal water supply in Nova Scotia you may be obligated to have one of these devices installed.
“No owner, consumer, customer or other person … may allow water, wastewater, or any other liquid, chemical or substance, to ingress or egress the water system,” reads a long passage that is copied between the schedules of rules and regulations under which most of this province’s utilities operate.
This spring, Antigonish started to enforce that rule (Number 27 in its schedule) on owners of buildings that contain sprinkler systems.
“Antigonish is flat out retrofitting everything,” said Kevin Jones of Atlantic Backflow Specialists.
“They will be the first municipality I have ever heard of to force customers to retrofit their sprinkler systems.”
Letters were sent to the owners of buildings containing sprinkler systems in Antigonish this spring warning that they had three months to begin the installation of a backflow prevention device.
The valves prevent water in a building from draining back into the drinking water supply during a pressure disruption – i.e. a drop in water pressure outside the building or an accidental spike in pressure inside the building.
“It’s not a cheap fix — from the sounds of it it could be in the tens of thousands of dollars,” said Lloyd Jewkes, one of the owners of the Five to a Dollar store on Main Street.
“We’re not saying it shouldn’t be put into code and practice, the town’s concerns are legitimate, but what we’re saying is can we just take it one step at a time.”
The Five to a Dollar Store spent about $4,000 making improvements to their store’s sprinkler system this spring. While doing that work they were not told about the requirement for a backflow prevention device.
The new valve comes with new issues — often it will lower water pressure in the building and can result in the need for a redesign of an entire sprinkler system.
“Or it might not affect it at all,” said Jones.
“But if you’re into a redesign of an entire sprinkler system you could be into $60,000 or $70,000 before it’s all said and done.”
Businesses that didn’t respond to the July letter to say that they would begin the process of engineering a fix were sent letters warning that they could have their water cut off by the town.
The former mayor and owner of the building that houses Pizza Delight on Main Street, Carl Chisholm, is meeting with town staff later this week on behalf of a handful of concerned local business people.
“What’s catching people by surprise is the time frame the town wants the work done,” said Chisholm.
“We’re of the understanding that it has to be done, we just want a little more time to get it done.”
Chisholm like Jewkes, thought the town was only passing down the requirements made by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board approval of its new rates and regulations passed down last July.
But Paul Allan, executive director of the provincial regulator, said
Wednesday that it is the utilities themselves that submit their regulations to be approved.
For its part, the town declined to provide an interview on the issue and in a written response to Chronicle Herald questions said that the requirements for backflow prevention come from the Department of Environment.
“The Town's program has been driven by the recent renewal of their Permit to Operate a Water Utility from Nova Scotia Department of Environment, which came into effect on April 1, 2018,” reads the response.
Department of Environment spokesman Bruce Nunn, meanwhile, said the requirement for backflow prevention doesn’t come from them. He said the province regulates the quality of drinking water but its up to municipalities to determine how they reach that target.
Whoever came up with the requirement for the valve and the timeline the town is imposing on building owners, their presence is considered a best practice in water management.
“Absolutely, it’s a good idea,” said Andrew Mackinnon, director of public works for the Town of Truro.
His town doesn’t have a requirement for backflow devices but he anticipates one will come when they renew their permit to operate a water supply system.
“Backflow prevention should be even more of a concern internally for a building,” said Mackinnon.
“You could have a restaurant using water in the kitchen for food prep and have a janitors’ room behind it with a mop bucket or sink that’s full of water and chemicals. If there is a hose running into that bucket and if negative pressure happens in the system that water and chemicals could be drawn back into the drinking water. There’s all kinds of ways people can contaminate themselves.”
The Town of Antigonish’s written response said that because sprinkler systems hold large volumes of water that are not considered safe for drinking, they have the potential to contaminate drinking water if sucked back into the regular supply.
“The Town has assessed and installed backflow preventers on our properties with since instituting the program in July 2018,” reads the statement from the Town.