Respond to ‘backflow valve’ survey before September 3
Federal laws say utilities must defend citizens against contamination, says David Brown.
David Brown earned the 2008 Moral Courage Award from the Hillsborough County Commission for fighting bureaucracy. But the fight’s never stopped.
“My reasons for continuing with this have changed twice since I began,” Brown said in an interview Sept. 11. “But I still want the same thing I wanted when I started.”
What he wants is for utility companies to be responsible for the safety of the utility they provide.
“It shouldn’t be up to the homeowner to protect himself,” he said.
Brown began his crusade against Hillsborough County’s interpretation of state legislation concerning “backflow valves” that are placed to prevent irrigation water from wells and ponds from entering drinking water in 2007 because he thought citizens were being price-gouged for something they shouldn’t have to pay for in the first place. But then he realized there was a terrorist aspect involved as well. And finally, after several years, he also saw a problem with eminent domain.
“The utility companies should have to own, install, test and maintain them (the backflow valves). Federal laws say utilities must defend citizens against contamination,” he said.
That isn’t what’s happening here.
“All federal law says is you have to have a cross-connection control program. It does not specify how. It could be anything, from a simple homeowner saying he has one to a situation as bad as we have here in this county,” he said. “Florida law determining procedures for backflow valves on properties that irrigate their lawns from a pond or well is up for review at the end of this month. The state is conducting a survey to find out what residents think about having a valve on their property now or in the future.”
As it stands now, homeowners who irrigate with well or pond water are responsible for installing and maintaining the valves on their property.
Brown says that’s not fair and this is the time to join him in his fight to change things.
An email from Les O’Brien, training specialist at the University of Florida’s Center for Training, Research and Education for Environmental Occupations showed agreement on one major point with Brown: Price, writing that “The prices charged for testing and installation were exorbitant and uncalled for.”
The backflow issue began in 2007, when a plumber was called to a residence in Sun City Center’s St. Andrew Estates subdivision and reported that the residence did not have a backflow valve for its irrigation line. The man received a notice he had to buy and install one.
That resident called community activist John Bowker, who alerted Brown because Brown had worked on the county’s Flood Plain Map and knew a lot about water tables and flow.
“Then the county sent a man to take a survey and checked every home for cross-connection valves so he could issue notices,” Brown said.
Hundreds of people were suddenly affected with large bills, he said. So Brown began investigating the problems with the valves and found they could easily be tampered with — even to the point of adding chemicals and poisoning people.
He’s been working with officials ever since but now he’s filed a petition to go before an administrative judge.
“With all the news about chemical weapons, I waited until 2 a.m. so I could file my petition on Sept. 11,” he said. “If people join in this now, maybe we can change things.”
Because Brown was appointed by the Hillsborough County Commission as the County’s Representative on the Hillsborough County Cross-Contamination, Backflow-Siphonage Control Board, he is allowed to represent others. “There are 1.278 million people represented with my filing,” he said, showing the Petition he filed 12 hours before his interview.
“This goes before an administrative judge, not a federal or state court,” he explained. Basically, the lengthy document asks that the current interpretation of how to control backflow be “stricken” from the record and that utility companies be responsible as new homes are built and as water meters are changed out so that eventually, all backflow valves would be on the strip of easement belonging to the county (they are currently on the property of the owner) and that they be owned and maintained by the company instead of the homeowner.
“Nobody has ever even gotten sick from backflow in the State of Florida,” Brown said. “If the utility companies owned the valves you better believe they wouldn’t be using anything that cost what they do now.”
He has created a website that lists the current backflow valve laws, and a list of reasons why he (and others who are working with him) say they do not belong in residential areas. There is also a link to the State’s survey on the site, www.suncitydave.org and clicking on Florida Backflow Valve Survey.
An ordinance would have to be written by the County Commission and then they would have to vote on it to change things locally, but the State survey will help dictate how they vote.
“It looks like they (Commissioners) might be favoring a $20 valve on county property now but we can’t be sure until it happens,” he said.
Taking this survey will help ensure that residents get to express their opinion on this matter which has cost so many so much, he said.
“The current valves are not only the responsibility of the homeowner to install and maintain, but they are a real invitation to vandals and then there’s that matter of eminent domain. People need to speak up now while there’s still time.”