Public Education? - Why Bother?

By Les O'Brien, CET


Exactly! Why bother with public education? Why bother to tell the customers how to protect the public water supply? Why bother to waste money on pamphlets, brochures, newspaper advertising, and video tapes? Why waste time with public service announcements?

If we tell our customers too much about backflow and cross-connections, they might stop drinking the water and buy bottled water. Too late! The customers are already drinking large quantities of bottled water. Many of our customers are afraid to drink water from public water supplies.

Why is this? Is it the taste and odor or do our customers hear too many horror stories of contaminated water in other cities such as cryptosporidium in Milwaukee? A boil order issued in Jacksonville makes front page news in the newspapers. Our customers do not hear about the thousands of communities that have safe drinking water. Good news does not sell newspapers.

In addition to telling the customer how great the public water supply is, it is also important to supply information about the possibilities of backflow and how to provide protection in their homes and businesses. We need to remind them that it is everyone's responsibility to maintain the quality of the public water supply. Customers who drink bottled water may not be concerned about protecting the community's water supply. If they don't drink the water, their perception is that there are plenty of other customers who also do not drink the public water. Why worry about protecting the quality of the water? They will use the water to wash their cars and irrigate their lawns, but you don't need high quality water for those activities. After all, many purveyors sell reuse water from the wastewater plant for lawn irrigation.

The garden hose is considered to be the one item at home that has contributed to the largest number of cross-connection incidents. Customers use their garden hose to water their lawn, fill their swimming pools, wash the car and dog, flush their car's radiator, and dilute chemicals such as fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides. Many customers buy special nozzles to attach to the end of their garden hose so that they can unclog their sewer lines. Some customers will actually stick the end of their public water supply into a raw sewer line.

Customers can purchase hose connected devices and other gadgets that when used may create a cross-connection. The manufacturers of these products may not provide any warning labels. Customers are not informed about the best method to protect their water supply. What education do the customers receive about the use of their garden hose relative to protecting the public water supply?

All water purveyors are encouraged to provide information to their customers about thermal expansion. Before a backflow prevention assembly or device is installed on the main water supply of a customer, the water heater relieves any buildup of pressure through the water meter. Once a backflow preventer is installed, the temperature and pressure (T&P) valve must operate correctly to insure that the pressure does not build up to the point of causing a pipe to leak. Many customers complain to the water purveyor, after a backflow preventer has been installed near the water meter, that water sometimes drips out of a pipe by the water heater. Customers do not understand that a little drip now and again is an indication that the T&P valve may be working properly. Your customers should have been supplied with information about thermal expansion and how the T&P valve operates. Many communities require an expansion tank be installed when the backflow prevention assembly or device is installed. By supplying information about thermal expansion, any damage resulting from a non-functioning T&P valve, resulting in high pressure to the customer's water piping, is the customer's responsibility.

There are several methods of disseminating information to the public. These methods might include: putting stuffers in the monthly bill; direct mailing to customers; supplying door knob hangers; advertising in newspaper, radio, and television; showing video tapes; providing pamphlets and brochures; distributing comic books; and providing guest speakers for local meetings

There are many sources of information on the World Wide Web.

To find a listing of pamphlets, try: .

To find information on video tapes, try: .

Try for links to many backflow prevention and cross-connection control Web sites.

All water purveyors, public and private, should dedicate a small part of their annual budget to advertise how safe their water actually is. Comparisons between the quality of tap water and bottled water could be made. Rate comparisons between bottled water and the public water supply is another approach that could be taken.

Public education should be provided for thermal expansion, lawn irrigation, proper use of the garden hose, plumbing code approved toilet ballcocks, power washing equipment, home photo labs, and medical equipment such as dialysis machines. The attitude in the commercial world is, "buyer beware." Maybe our new motto should be "Buyer Be Aware."

\98pub-Ed 11/30/05

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