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Imagine a world free of toxins, waste, harmful chemicals and other contaminants in drinking water. Backflow prevention and cross-connections control is part of the solution to reach this goal, as it stops unwanted contaminated water from flowing in the reverse direction. Next month, on August 16, people around the world will observe National Backflow Prevention Day to honor those who help ensure backflow prevention so our water supply is free of toxins.
Watts Water Technologies established this annual national holiday on this day to call attention to a tragic backflow incident that impacted attendees of the 1933 Chicago World Fair. Visitors staying at two hotels with a shared rooftop water source developed dysentery because of the hotels’ cross-contaminated water supply. More than 2,000 people fell ill and 98 died.
PHCPPros recently spoke with Ian Baynes, director of valves and HVAC at Watts Water Technologies about National Backflow Prevention Day, to gain insights on how those in the plumbing community can participate, and to discuss the how the technology has evolved over the years.
PHCPPros: Why did Watts establish National Backflow Prevention Day?
Baynes: Most people are unaware that their safe drinking water is a direct result of the many cross connection programs operated at town, city and state-level that prevent backflow and back-siphonage events each and every day. Because they operate behind the scenes, backflow products and professionals typically don’t see much time in the spotlight. We created National Backflow Prevention Day to raise awareness of drinking water protection and to highlight hard work of the professionals who make it possible. We hope they will feel seen, appreciated, and advocated for.
PHCPPros: Who can participate?
Baynes: Backflow Prevention Day is for anyone who likes clean, safe drinking water. It impacts us all, so there is something for all of us to learn. This day is not a Watts-only event — it marks an industry-wide effort to raise awareness for the importance of backflow preventers and backflow prevention programs. There remains a huge opportunity to educate industry professionals as well as the general public on the importance of backflow prevention.
PHCPPros: What types of activities and educational events do you have planned for this year’s event?
Baynes: Every year, we offer educational opportunities that benefit professionals working within the backflow space. This year, we are excited to host both a live event that will celebrate the people and products of backflow, as well as a CEU webinar for plumbing engineers. It will cover existing and emerging technologies and how they can benefit experts in the field. Event and registration details are forthcoming. We’ll also be encouraging folks to share their backflow preventer installations, experiences and insights via social media using the hashtag #backflowday.
PHCPPros: Where will these events take place?
Baynes: Backflow enthusiasts around the world will be able to participate virtually. We’ll hold on-site events at our facilities where backflow preventers are manufactured backflow, with the main celebration taking place at our Global Headquarters in North Andover, Massachusetts. We encourage any and all industry participation across brands, rep groups, water purveyors, and contractors. Everyone has a well-earned seat at this table. We’ve also talked with other industry associations and companies who are planning their own events to mark the day.
PHCPPros: Why should the industry participate in National Backflow Prevention Day?
This is a day to highlight and feel proud of the work we are all doing every day to protect and keep our drinking water safe. Backflow preventers are not just a code required device but are saving lives everyday by preventing a whole host of bad things from entering our drinking water supply. While we have come a long way in developing codes and programs to ensure drinking water is protected, there remains work to be done both in the United States and globally. We still have municipalities without backflow prevention programs and cross connections being created unknowingly. National Backflow Prevention Day is a time to celebrate how far we have come and to learn about the innovations that will shape the future of backflow prevention. It’s a day to connect with our colleagues in learning, celebration, camaraderie.
PHCPPros: What are some new advances in backflow prevention that are worth noting? How do they help protect both commercial and residential buildings?
Baynes: We couldn’t be more excited to celebrate recent innovations in backflow prevention. Where, just a few generations ago, backflow prevention didn’t exist, the technology has grown and evolved exponentially. With the development of intelligent, connected components, backflow capabilities are leveling up in ways we never dreamed possible. These solutions will allow us to accomplish safer drinking water with fewer disasters, and we can’t wait to see where this technology will take the industry.
At Watts, all of our reduced pressure zone backflow preventers will ship standard with a sensor on the relief valve. It can be enabled by the user with the purchase of an activation kit that will send notifications of potentially catastrophic discharge, which can prevent flooding. We’ve also introduced our new ArmorTek coating on all cast iron valves to protect them against corrosion in harsh water environments.
PHCPPros: National Backflow Prevention Day was established in 2021. What are your ultimate goals with starting this annual event?
Baynes: We saw a need to both recognize the people working in backflow and to educate the public on this unsung hero of water safety. Our hope is that year over year, the holiday will reach a broader, wider audience and will be adopted throughout the industry, and across the globe. Backflow prevention and the people who make it possible deserve their day in the sun.
PHCPPros: In previous years, you’ve referred to backflow products and the professionals who design, build, install, and service backflow preventers as “unsung heroes” can you explain that?
Baynes: These are professional plumbers who are in the trenches and mechanical rooms every day, keeping plumbing systems in buildings running to ensure our public water supply continues to stay protected.
PHCPPros: Most professionals working today weren’t around before backflow code and assemblies were introduced, can you paint a picture of life before backflow?
Baynes: Before backflow preventers were invented, the public drinking water supply was regularly at risk of being polluted with contaminants, which could potentially harm people’s health as a result. Backflow preventers were invented because, until that point, the public drinking water supply was not protected from backpressure and back-siphonage events.
PHCPPros: How has backflow prevention evolved since the first backflow preventers were introduced?
Baynes: We’ve made BFP’s more compact and lighter weight, engineered them for specific applications, improved their design, function, and the materials we use to make them. Manufacturing has evolved, and so have the new technologies in the backflow space. New, connected solutions are the future of backflow prevention. We’re miles from where we started.