By PENNY FLETCHER
The state Department of Environmental Regulation has released a “Proposed Change of Rules” that, if passed by the Florida Legislature, will change the way backflow valves are installed and maintained.
That is what Sun City Center resident David Brown has been fighting for since 2007.
Backflow valves keep water from mixing with drinking water when water from lakes, ponds or wells is used for irrigation on a property.
Brown says the current valves are not only expensive but dangerous, open to people putting something poisonous in the potable water supply.
The Florida Legislature next meets in legislative session March 4 to May 2, and would take up the valve issue during that time. Some type of program is required by federal law to be used to keep pond water out of the drinking water, but the federal law doesn’t specify the type of program needed.
Hillsborough County has been requiring residents who water with pond or well irrigation to use valves that cost more than $600 each and more than $100 a year to maintain.
Brown, though not an attorney, has been filing motions to force the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt a much less costly model that he feels is safer.
“There are more than 80 ponds and lakes in Sun City Center alone,” Brown said in a previous interview for a story in The Observer News and The Current about his winning the county’s Moral Courage Award for fighting bureaucracy.
“They are all over the state,” he said, “and there are a lot of them in use in South County, especially in areas like Sun City Center and Apollo Beach.”
Brown demonstrated a valve that, he said, at $20, is not only cheaper but safer.
A hearing before an administrative judge was scheduled several times, but each time was moved back. In November, however, Brown received a letter from Judge Bram E. Canter saying he felt Brown had shown enough evidence to allege an immediate public danger and that “it showed a possibility for sufficient injury for standing to challenge the rule.”
Brown has since submitted requests for the Legislature to force the DEP to change to a safer model of backflow valve.
Plumbers could take the existing valves (that could be sold for scrap) with removal paid for by the homeowner; then the county would install the new type valve on its easement property at its expense. The current valves are on the homeowner’s land.
“If adopted for the state by the Legislature,” Brown said, “it will save three million a year for Floridians.”
The county will require residents who use irrigation other than county (or city) water to install an expansion tank, which will cost about $100 each. “But that’s nothing compared to the cost of putting in and maintaining the current type valves,” Brown said.
The new rules were published by the DEP the day Brown’s hearing was supposed to be held, and because of them, the hearing date has again been set back.
“What they’re proposing to do will be just about everything we asked for and need,” he said in an interview Feb. 4. “But a proposal isn’t a law yet. Right now, it’s Jell-O hanging on the walls with nails. Nothing is set in stone.”
All federal law says about cross connections between drinking water and lake, pond or well irrigation water is that some kind of backflow program must be present. It does not state what kind it will be, and all states may make their own regulations, which also may vary from county to county within that state.
A 10-page “Notice of Proposed Rule Change” has been drafted by the DEP and it shows two important changes from current rules: one, it allows dual-check valves such as the $20 one Brown demonstrated; and it calls for an inspection every two years instead of annually.
So far, Brown has been proceeding as an individual, but now he is asking the board of directors of the Middle Lake Homeowner’s Association where he lives and also the Sun City Center Community Association whether he can represent their interests if the rules do not change and he has to continue his fight.