LONG BEACH - The Long Beach City Council held their first regularly scheduled workshop on June 7, with the main hot topic of cross-connection control.

Cross-connections are devices, basically a valve, installed in the water system at the point where the public water supply enters private residences or businesses. The cross-connection is designed to prevent water from flowing back into the public system if the pressure in the system should drop, such as when firefighters pull large amounts of water from a hydrant while fighting a fire or if a water main breaks.

Currently, to comply with Federal regulations the state is mandating, through Administrative Code 246-290-490 for Public Water Systems, that "all community water systems shall comply with the cross-connection control requirements." Details are largely left to the communities for enforcement. So the city council is currently working on drafting an ordinance to administer the mandate.

"I hate regulations," admitted Don Zuern, supervisor for Long Beach water and sewer. "But this one we need to hurry up and adopt. It comes down to the health and welfare of our community."

He told of an incident where another city's crew shut off water to a portion of their system to fix a leaky water pipe. A house on the same line happened to have a tent fumigation set up for pest control and when the pressure dropped pesticides from the house where pulled through the pipes and into the water supply, just like pulling fluid up through a syringe. Within days, more than 150 people were sick.

There are other examples of people getting ill from problems of backflow, when contaminated water is pulled back into the public water system. Contaminates range from weed killers to oil to carbon dioxide from soft drink dispensers.

"You'd be surprised what people do with our water once it leaves our meter. I've seen a lot of fun stuff," said Zuern. "We don't want that water back under any circumstance."

The state is beginning to aggressively investigate whether communities are in compliance, and violations could endanger the city's ability to apply for various grants and funding sources.

"They're starting to fine people. They would not let us off the hook until we jumped through the hoops," said Zuern. "If you have one incident, the follow up testing is incredible."

Zuern admits the program will be expensive to start up. Property owners will be responsible for the installation and maintenance of the devices, which will also have to be inspected annually.

The key, said Mary Howell, a cross-connection consultant who attended the meeting to help answer questions, to a successful program is informing people about the requirements and why they are necessary. "It's all about public education," she said.

For additional information on the cross-connection program or for educational material on the subject, contact city hall at 642-4421.

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