Backflow Prevention and Cross-Connection Control FAQs

Pipes and valves

1. Why does the City of Virginia Beach Department of Public Utilities have a Backflow Prevention and Cross Connection Control Program?
The purpose of this program is to protect the health and welfare of the citizens of Virginia Beach by ensuring that the City's drinking water supply is protected from harmful substances. It is also required by the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) Waterworks Regulations. As your water system operator we are required to have this program as a condition for the issuance of our water system operator’s license.
 
2. What is a cross-connection?
A cross-connection is any temporary or permanent connection between a public water system or consumer’s potable (i.e., drinking) water system and any source or system containing nonpotable water or other substances. An example is the piping between a public water system or consumer’s potable water system and an auxiliary water system, cooling system, well, or irrigation system.
 
3. What is backflow?
Backflow is the undesirable reversal of flow of nonpotable water or other substances through a cross-connection and into the piping of a public water system or consumer’s potable water system. There are two types of backflow; backpressure and backsiphonage.
 
4. What is backpressure?
Backpressure is backflow caused by a downstream pressure that is greater than the upstream or supply pressure in a public water system or consumer’s potable water system. Backpressure (i.e., downstream pressure that is greater than the potable water supply pressure) can result from an increase in downstream pressure, a reduction in the potable water supply pressure, or a combination of both. Increases in downstream pressure can be created by pumps, temperature increases in boilers, etc. Reductions in potable water supply pressure occur whenever the amount of water being used exceeds the amount of water being supplied, such as during water line flushing, fire fighting, or breaks in water mains.
 
5. What is backsiphonage?
Backsiphonage is backflow caused by a negative pressure (i.e., a vacuum or partial vacuum) in a public water system or consumer’s potable water system. The effect is similar to drinking water through a straw. Backsiphonage can occur when there is a stoppage of water supply due to nearby fire fighting, a break in a water main, routine maintenance flushing, or any other situation that causes a significant loss in water system pressure.
 
6. Why do water system operators need to control backflow?
Backflow into a public water system can pollute or contaminate the water in that system (i.e., backflow into a public water system can make the water in that system unusable or unsafe to drink), and each water supplier has a responsibility to provide water that is safe to drink under all foreseeable circumstances.  Furthermore, consumers generally have absolute faith that water delivered to them through a public water system is always safe to drink.  For these reasons, each water supplier must take reasonable precautions to protect its public water system against backflow.
 
7. Are all residential homes required to have backflow assemblies?
At this time only those residential homes that have irrigation, sprinkler systems, boilers, geothermal heating systems or medical equipment connected to the City’s water system  are required to have backflow assemblies on those systems.
 
8. Why are irrigation systems considered to be hazardous to the water system?
Irrigation systems include but are not limited to agricultural, residential, and commercial applications. The Virginia Department of Health classifies lawn sprinkler systems and irrigation systems as a high hazard for several reasons; sprinklers, bubbler outlets, emitters, and other equipment are exposed to substances such as fertilizers, fecal material from pets or other animals, pesticides, or other chemical and biological contaminants. Sprinklers may remain submerged under water after use or storms. Should the water system pressure suddenly decrease, such as in the case of a water main break, line flushing, or during a major fire involving multiple fire hydrants, these harmful substances can be back-siphoned into the water distribution system. They may be subject to various onsite conditions such as additional water supplies, chemical injection, booster pumps, and elevation changes. All of these conditions must be considered when determining backflow protection. Some hazards relating to irrigation systems are:

Fertilizers: Ammonia salts, ammonia gas, phosphates, potassium salts.
Herbicides: 2,4-D, dinitrophenol, 2,4,5-T, T-pentachlorophenol, sodium chlorate, borax, sodium arsenate, methyl bromide.
Pesticides: TDE, BHC, lindane, TEPP, parathion, malathion, nicotine, MH, and others.
Fecal matter: Animal (domestic and non-domestic).
 
9. What type of backflow prevention assemblies are allowed in irrigation systems?
For those irrigation systems connected to the Department of Public Utilities potable water system, the appropriate protection is a Reduced Pressure Principle (RP) backflow prevention assembly. A Pressure Vacuum Breaker (PVB) may be used for service protection if the Department of Public Utilities potable water service is the sole source of supply to the premises or property, if it is used strictly for irrigation, and there is no means or potential for backpressure (i.e., PVB’s protect against backsiphonage only). Any irrigation system that has a means to introduce chemicals into the Department of Public Utilities potable water system shall always be protected against backflow by a RP backflow prevention assembly. Approved backflow prevention devices and assemblies are those that meet AWWA standards, and are approved by ASSE and the USC-FCCC (University of Southern California Foundation for Cross Connection Control and Hydraulic Research).
 
*** Note: Double Check Valve Assemblies (DCVA) are not allowed in irrigation systems.  Irrigation systems are considered as a “high hazard” and therefore are not allowed to use a DCVA.
 
10. How do I know if I have a backflow prevention assembly?
Generally, the backflow prevention assembly is located as close as possible to the water service connection, but must remain on private property. It is usually installed outdoors and in a “loop” of the irrigation system that extends above the ground and sometimes near the sprinkler system timer.
 
11. Is there a minimum height that the backflow assembly must be installed?
Yes, backflow prevention assemblies should be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s installation instructions, the Uniform Statewide Building Code and any additional instructions offered by the Department of Public Utilities . Regulations regarding flow orientation and proper access to the backflow preventer should also be followed.

A plumbing permit is required for the installation of a new backflow device or relocation of an existing device.  Please contact Permits and Inspections to obtain the permit.
 
***Note: Customers should take necessary actions to ensure that their backflow prevention assembly does not get damaged during freezing temperatures.
 
12. How often do I have to have my backflow assembly tested?
They must be tested at least annually. Backflow assemblies are mechanical assemblies and as such they are subject to fail, which is why the VDH requires that they be tested at least once a year.  In addition, newly installed backflow assemblies and backflow assemblies that are repaired or relocated must also be tested. This requirement is echoed by Virginia Maintenance Code, International Plumbing Code, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Cross Connection Control Manual.
 
13. How much will the inspections/maintenance cost?
Though the Department of Public Utilities  monitors the installation and maintenance of these assemblies as required by the VDH, we do not have any influence or control over the contractors pricing and it can vary from one testing contractor to another. Currently the prices we have been quoted are averaging from $85 to $200. We also understand that group pricing, whether through a neighborhood or homeowners association is an option that may lower your annual testing cost. Combining the test with other irrigation system maintenance may also net a savings for the homeowner.

The Department of Public Utilities d​oes not endorse, guarantee, or warrant any work performed by the testing contractors. All interactions between customers and contractors are private transactions between these two entities.
 
14. Will there be a list of certified testers available to us? Where can we view this list?
Yes, a list of certified testers is available here. The Department of Public Utilities advises you should also check the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation website each year to ensure that your chosen tester is still a properly certified and approved tester as certifications are subject to expiration and revocation. The Department of Public Utilities does not endorse, guarantee, or warrant any work performed by the testing contractors. All interactions between customers and contractors are private transactions between these two entities. The Department of Public Utilities does not monitor the prices charged by any of these testers. You may want to call for price estimates before contracting with a tester. This list may not include all of the certified testers working in the area. Department of Public Utilities will not accept any liability for exclusion. We provide this list as a convenience to our customers. It is the certified tester’s responsibility to notify us if they want to be on the list. Interested parties should contact the Backflow Prevention and Cross Connection Control Program Manager at (757) 385-4171 or backflow@vbgov.com.
 
15. Why is the testing contractor that I used before not on your list now?
Backflow Prevention Device Worker certifications are subject to expiration and revocation. You should inquire of your chosen tester’s appropriate certification, and also check the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation website each year to ensure that your chosen tester is still a properly certified and approved tester.
 
16. Will I receive notification when to perform my test?
Yes, we track the backflow assembly information in our data base which will generate a reminder letter to our customers reminding them when their annual test is due. You should receive a reminder letter 45 to 60 days before your test is due. If you do not receive a letter please contact the Backflow Prevention and Cross Connection Control Program Manager at (757) 385-4171 or backflow@vbgov.com.
 
17. What if I don’t receive a letter?
The absence of a reminder letter does not void the requirement of the annual inspection required by the Department of Public Utilities Backflow Prevention and Cross Connection Control Program. There is general information and a copy of a blank test form on the City’s website. If you have not received a letter please contact the Backflow Prevention and Cross Connection Control Program Manager at (757) 385-4171 or backflow@vbgov.com and provide the information necessary so we can send you the annual testing notifications.
 
18. What do I do with my test report?
Your chosen tester should send a copy to the Department of Public Utilities within 30 days of the test date. Please retain your copy in your records in case the contractor fails to send it to the Department of Public Utilities. There are three ways you can submit your test report to the Department of Public Utilities:

email:​ backflow@vbgov.com 
fax: (757) 427-3183
hand deliver or mail: 
Department of Public Utilities


Attn: Backflow Program

2405 Courthouse Dr.
Municipal Center
Building 2 2nd Floor
Virginia Beach, Virginia . 23456 

19. What happens if my backflow assembly fails the test?
If your assembly fails the test, you should make arrangements to have the assembly repaired or replaced as required, and retested within 15 days.
 
20. What if I do not get my backflow assembly tested or fail to have an improperly working backflow assembly repaired or replaced?
The Department of Public Utilities hopes that you will share our desire to maintain a safe water distribution system. However, if you choose to not comply with this mandated program, you will risk a potential loss of water service until the device is repaired or replaced and a passing test report is provided to the Department of Public Utilities.
 
21. Are any other backflow devices required for residential homes?
All outdoor faucets and hose bibs that have threaded connections where a garden hose can be attached should have backflow prevention protection. This may be in the form of a frost-proof automatic draining outdoor faucet with built in backflow preventer or by the use of a screw on hose bibb vacuum breaker (HBVB) that can be purchased at local hardware or home supply stores.
 
***Note: Customers should take necessary actions to ensure that their backflow prevention device or plumbing does not get damaged during freezing temperatures.
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