A new law requiring city water users to install special protection devices in their water lines should not spook homeowners, city water officials say.
Since the early 1970s, the city has required the so-called cross-connection control devices in all new construction, said Jerry Thomas, city plumbing inspector.
Many older homes in Lawrence have either been upgraded with the devices in the last 20 years, or already have some degree of protection, said Thomas.
In addition, city water officials will not enforce the new policies too vigorously for residential properties, said Roger Coffey, director of utilities.
However, Thomas said, there there are four areas that homeowners should examine for potential cross-connections: toilets, outdoor hose outlets, dishwashers, and underground lawn sprinkler systems.
Basically, a cross-connection is the point at which city water lines meet a customer's pipes that lead to sources of chemicals or unsafe water.
THE PROTECTION devices are designed to prevent an accidental backflow, in which a sudden drop of water pressure in city lines might siphon contaminated water from the customer line into the city water system.
Last Tuesday, the Lawrence city commission approved a cross-connection control program, as required by new state and federal laws safeguarding water quality.
While the program is aimed at "high-hazard" water users, such as factories, hospitals, industrial plants and mortuaries, it also covers private residences.
Thomas said city plumbing regulations have required that toilets and dishwashers be backflow-proof since the early 1970s.
He said he occasionally finds toilets and dishwashers in older homes that don't meet city regulations. But they are the exception rather than the rule, he said.
"I think in the older homes the feeling is that there are very few that aren't meeting the plumbing codes," said Coffey.
The city required devices for outdoor hose faucets in the 1970s, but dropped the requirement when the devices caused the faucets to freeze in the winter. An improved version of the devices called bib vacuum breakers is now available at local hardware and plumbing supply stores, Thomas said.
FEDERAL WATER officials didn't recognize the problems with water sprinklers until the mid-1980s, Thomas said. The danger occurs when water on the lawn picks up herbicides or pesticides and pools around the sprinkler head.
The new cross-connection ordinance gives a homeowner a choice of three types of protection device to install on a lawn sprinkler system: a pressure vacuum breaker, an atmospheric vacuum breaker, or a reduced pressure principle device.
Depending on the size of the device and labor involved, the cost of the devices and installation ranges from a couple hundred to several hundred dollars, said Kenny Breithaupt, owner of Action Plumbing in Lawrence.
Coffey warned that the requirements could change in coming years.
"The technology is changing some," he said. "You start with one device, and then you learn there is something better. We're going to run into problems we don't know about."
Coffey said the city won't actively hunt for cross-connection violations in private homes. The city will only require improvements when hazard areas are called to their attention, he said.
Anyone interested in more information on cross-connections or having their homes inspected for potential hazards can call the Lawrence Department of Utilities, 832-3050, the city building inspection department, 832-3100, or a qualified plumber.