March 16 2012 12:17 AM

IN MAY OF 2000, residents living around the subdivision in Pineville, North Carolina, known as Walden Pointe discovered that their drinking water had become contaminated with raw sewage. The contamination reached around 60 homes and more than 100 Walden Pointe residents fell ill. The affected citizens sued their municipality and received a $1.2 million settlement to cover their damages and medical expenses.

In June, 2004, thousands of residents living in the Detroit, Michigan, suburb of Novi were issued a ‘boil water alert,’ even though municipal water systems were supposedly EPAcompliant. The alert forced Novi schools to shut off sinks and drinking fountains and purchase hundreds of cases of bottled water. There are no reliable estimates of how many people may have been hurt by the contamination.

In 2006, a Georgia man stepped into his shower to get ready for work. Due to a caustic contaminant in the water supply from a nearby plant, the spray from the showerhead seared nearly 80 percent of the skin off his body.

Three different locations. Three separate public health incidents. One common cause: contaminated backflow.

Unfortunately, these incidents are not uncommon. Commercial and residential irrigation sites are a frequent source of water contamination—so frequent, in fact, that a number of companies have dedicated years of engineering research and development to creating backflow prevention devices that shield property owners and contractors from liability while protecting the public health. The good news for irrigation contractors is that contamination can be contained with adequate backflow devices and a better understanding of backflow prevention.

For commercial sites, the laws and regulations have already caught up with the threat. Municipal codes dictate strict guidelines for the installation, operation and maintenance of backflow prevention devices. For residential sites, however, the regulations are not as robust. The lack of legal obligations, however, doesn’t preclude an ethical and professional duty placed squarely on the shoulders of the contractor.

“Because residential properties are not inspected by public operators or municipal supervisors, the contractor actually has an elevated level of responsibility for controlling backflow,” says Rick Fields, national sales manager for Wilkins. “Contractors are becoming better educated about the right way and wrong way to install a [backflow prevention] system.”

If you’re a contractor doing commercial landscape and irrigation work, chances are you’ve had some experience with installing and maintaining backflow prevention systems. If you specialize in residential properties, there may be a bit of a learning curve. Getting up to speed on backflow prevention can give you a step up on your competition.

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