Don’t be the next Corpus Christi – use tech for your municipalities backflow programs

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A year ago, the news of Flint’s lead-tainted water went nationwide. This month the backflow incident in Corpus Christi has done the same.

There’s nothing people take for granted more than clean water – until they don’t have it anymore.

Backflow prevention programs are considered by most municipalities to be a cost center – management of a program requires personnel and equipment to ensure that compliance is met.

However, like many preventative programs – the cost of prevention is much lower than the cost of an incident. Numbers from Corpus Christi haven’t come out yet because the event is still being addressed. But we’re already seeing the cost of bad press. The remediation and the greatly increased compliance requirements that will no doubt come out of the incident will be far greater than the cost of running a compliance program.

When an incident occurs a municipality tends to take its lumps, make its changes, and quickly forget about it. The status quo continues.

We need change in this industry. Your municipality could be the next Corpus Christi.

Even running a good paper-based program today allows errors to slip through the cracks. A simple mistake entering a test report received from a testing company could mean the difference between a failing device getting flagged (and followed-up on) or getting marked as passed and ignored. What about a test report filed in the wrong drawer for follow-up? Consider personnel that deal with backflow a few months out of the year, and a zillion other things the rest of the year. It’s easy to forget the process or make a mistake. All of these little errors could cause a big problem.

We’ll always have potential places for mistakes – but why do we, as the backflow industry, continue embracing what’s ‘worked’ for the last 45 years instead of innovating? All of these problems could be greatly improved with technology. Why is the industry so reluctant to embrace the strides forward other related industries have embraced and flourished from?

It’s (almost) 2017

Why are most municipalities still requiring filling out paper test report forms, mailing them to someone, and then manually entering that information a second time?! Bulk human data entry is woefully error-prone. We have technology that’s made to do this at a far higher quality rate. So let’s try and use the lessons that Corpus Christie is learning and put them to good use across other water districts.

Why are we still using different forms everywhere? I’ve looked at more unique test report forms than I thought could even exist. They all share the same core components (they have to, they are testing the same devices with the same EPA requirements) but the difference in all of those forms breeds too many chances for mistakes. Even if municipalities still need additional information, the potential for mistakes decreases if we switch to a more unified form. It’s not acceptable anymore for compliance information to not be shared; the more universal the data collected is, the better we’ll know as an industry how well backflow prevention is working.

What will it take for us an industry to embrace technology? If the Corpus Christi incident is not enough, how big of a backflow event will it require? Managing your backflow program with tech now guarantees your municipality is unlikely to have any major backflow incident. Implementing an effective preventative maintenance program is, after all, much more affordable than clean-up.

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