Plumb Bums

Here's A Piece Of Legislation That Oughta Be Washed Down The Drain.

By Paula Huff

TWO ARIZONA Republican senators, Rusty Bowers and Pat Conner, are sponsoring SB1266, which would decriminalize pollution of the public water supply.

Bowers is also currently sponsoring a bill which regulates how much breast a stripper may bare--leading Pam Francis, vice-president of Certified Backflow Testers, a water industry group, to quip Bowers wants to regulate women's breasts and deregulate safe drinking water.

Sen. Conner owns a string of car washes and lube pits in Yuma. SB1266 would make life easier for him, since it would eliminate the $30 annual cost--not to mention the hassle--of testing his backflow prevention devices.

Currents But the savings to the Senator would likely cost the public dearly.

If passed, SB1266 would greatly increase the risk that his car washes and lube pits could contaminate the public water supply.

Francis says pumps in car washes can overpower public water pressure, leading to the condition SB1266 is aimed at deregulating--backflow, the unwanted reverse flow of a fluid or other substance in a pipeline. What this means in practical terms is that the car-wash machinery that mixes solvents and degreasers and shoots them out at a high pressure can also backfire, driving these toxic chemicals straight into the public water supply.

Fortunately, Tucson Water has the most effective backflow-prevention program in the state. The public utility has mandated large backflow-prevention devices on the water lines leading into car washes and other businesses. That way, if the internal backflow-prevention devices fail, at least the toxins will not reach the public water supply.

An example of this type of near-disaster occurred at University Medical Center in the summer of 1996, Francis notes. The potable water supply was contaminated with Legionella pneumophila bacteria due to backflow between the hospital's sewage and drinking water lines.

Fortunately, the backflow-prevention device on the incoming water line prevented contamination of the public water supply.

"The whole neighborhood around the University would have been without potable water for a week if that device had failed," Francis says.

But not all water companies have such safety nets. In fact, Flowing Wells Irrigation District, a water utility which serves 15,500 people in northwestern Pima County, does not have a single backflow-prevention device, says Francis.

According to the Arizona State Senate fact sheet for SB1266, the bill "eliminates the requirement that public water systems implement backflow prevention in accordance with rules adopted by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality." Francis said that if Arizona lawmakers pass this bill, owners of buildings with cross-connected plumbing will no longer be responsible for keeping their sewage out of the potable water supply.

The primary supporters of SB1266 are Dave Furrey and Carl Triphan. Furrey owns the Flowing Wells Irrigation District. On January 28, ADEQ cited Furrey's company for failure to require the periodic testing of backflow-prevention assemblies, failure to maintain records of backflow-prevention assembly installations and failure to have an adequate microbiological sampling plan.

According to Francis, Furrey is racking up about $1,500 a day in fines for these violations. If SB1266 becomes law, these fines will evaporate.

Triphan is in the plumbing industry, and his career would be advanced with the passage of SB1266. By taking the responsibility for backflow-prevention from the ADEQ and putting it in the hands of plumbers, Triphan stands to make a tidy sum.

The Legionella bacteria incidents at UMC are not the only backflow incidents in Tucson in recent years. Triphan spoke at a recent Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors (PHCC) meeting, where he acknowledged an incident which happened at the Tucson Police Department. Red dye was placed in the sewage system and, because the sewage line and the chilled-water lines were cross-connected, the drinking fountains began flowing red.

According to Francis, another incident occurred at Palo Verde High School. Boiler water lines were cross-connected to the drinking fountains. Although boiler water came out of the school's drinking fountains, ADEQ successfully managed to keep the swill out of the public water supply.

Had SB1266 been in effect then, the neighborhood water supply would have been contaminated, Francis says.

Triphan also acknowledged a third incident, which he told the PHCC members occurred at the Colter Building downtown. He said antifreeze was added to the water in the fire-protection system, and the backflow-prevention device on the fire system failed, resulting in antifreeze flowing from the drinking fountains. Folks in the Colter Building were on bottled water for a week after that.

Many prominent groups have come out in opposition to SB1266, including the Tucson Regional Water Council, the Arizona Public Health Association, Paradise Valley Water Company, the Piping Industry Progress and Education Fund, the City of Apache Junction and the Arizona Consumers Council.

Obviously, these bills do not result from the actions of sane men; rather, they result from the actions of Mesa Republicans. TW

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