Thursday, August 16, 2012

requirements of DC Water's new backflow preventer program questioned

Back to the topic of Bloomingdale flooding and the newly announced DC Water backflow preventer program:

From a Bloomingdale resident:

Neighbors -

I hope you are all doing well and staying dry!

I wanted to bring everyone's attention to some troubling details in the upcoming backflow preventer rebate program. I think DC Water is pulling a fast one on us yet again

1.) Work needs to have been performed by a DC licensed master plumber
2.) Plumbing permits are required (this is not clear from their announcement yet, but subsequent exchanges have confirmed)
3.) DCRA will need to inspect the work and issue a report/approval (this is not clear from their announcement yet, but subsequent exchanges have confirmed)

I've talked to quite a few neighbors who installed backflow preventers soon after the flooding (and prior to announcement of the details of the program) and no one I spoke with will meet these criteria.

1.) It doesn't make sense to have to wait for a permit from DCRA to do emergency work resulting from the failure of city infrastructure (where is the "all hands on deck" effort here? What is the social value of getting such a permit?).
2.) Having a licensed plumber do the work would cost a lot more than getting a general contractor to do so - the estimates in our home were in the $7000 range rather than $3000 for a general contractor so the choice was obvious. Our neighbors all made the same, obvious judgement call of using the lowest bidder to perform the work at the quickest possible opportunity. Even if we knew the requirements up front, paying more for the licensed plumber would wipe out any benefit from the rebate. Installing the valve itself is very straightforward - the bulk of the work for installation is the excavation and repairs of concrete, flooring, etc., which is the purview of a general contractor, not a plumber. The licensed plumber requirement only increases the cost, but adds little to no value
3.) If my past experience is any guide, DCRA inspections take months to get scheduled and the outcome is completely arbitrary depending on which inspector happens to be assigned

Given all we've been through at the hands of DC Water, I don't think it's too much to ask for them to at least make the rebate program accessible. They're already successfully using the program as a distraction/appeasement to avoid addressing the underlying issue so the least they could do is make sure it's actually useful to the affected residents.

I've already registered my concerns with DC Water's Ledroit/Bloomingdale "hotline" (voicemail), but I think it would be good if others can do the same (possibly by email so there is wider coverage and can't claim they didn't know). They never respond to me by email so perhaps some other voices would be better received :)

Councilman McDuffie and Councilman Graham (copied on this message) - grateful if you could follow up with DC Water and DCRA on your end. The official details of the plan have not yet been released so there is still time to remove these onerous conditions which will exclude many homeowners from eligibility.



DC Water said...

DC Water would like to respond to the anonymous posting regarding our backflow preventer program. It contains several misstatements of fact.

First, we have had to date exactly one interaction with a customer about what happens if a non-licensed plumber has already installed a backflow preventer in a home. That customer is not a resident of Bloomingdale. Secondly, the information presented in this post contradicts what we told the customer.

The requirement that the backflow preventer be installed by a DC-licensed Master Plumber is not a DC Water requirement. It is part of the DC Plumbing Code, which is administered by DCRA. That agency requires a permit for this work to be performed, and the permit must be pulled by a master plumber. This information is readily available in the permits section of for all to see. The inspection requirement is part of the permitting process.

We took the customer's question about unlicensed plumbing work to DCRA, and the agency responded with a three-step process to bring the work up to code:

1. Get a DC-licensed Master Plumber to pull a permit for the work that was already performed.
2. Submit the work to a DCRA inspection as part of the permit process.
3. Present us with the approved inspection along with the rest of the rebate paperwork.

We have no desire to make this process onerous for anyone, and we would like to reimburse as many customers as possible for the work, which is why we made the program retroactive to July 1. At the same time, DC Water is a government agency funded by ratepayer dollars. We cannot use those dollars to pay for plumbing work that doesn't comply with the laws or regulations of the District of Columbia. 

We have a team of no fewer than ten people working on possible short-term engineering solutions to the flooding issues in LeDroit Park and Bloomingdale. These are completely separate from the backflow preventer rebate and individual homeowner consulting programs.

Finally, to Mr. Roberts: we would appreciate the opportunity to correct the record on erroneous posts such as this one in advance in the future -- especially if they are to contain our logo and be presented anonymously yet also as fact.

DC Water
Office of External Affairs

Casey said...

Thank you for taking the time to respond. I am the author of the original message which was shared with neighbors.

All of the requirements noted in the original message are confirmed in your response so I don't understand the dismay expressed. Why does DC Water feel the need to take it upon themselves to look into whether the homeowner complied with DCRA regulations? That is the responsibility of the homeowner and DCRA, not DC Water. Your interest should be to answer the question of whether a backwater valve was installed and how much it cost. The remedy you suggest of retroactively hiring a plumber adds no value - only additional cost, time and uncertainty.

We've already experienced tens of thousands of dollars in damage to our property and lost many hours of sleep and sanity thanks to DC Water's negligence. Please don't make it even worse.

Casey Torgusson

DC Water said...

Mr. Torgusson,

Very simply, we are a government agency and cannot use our ratepayer funds to pay for illegal construction.

DC Water
Office of External Affairs

Unknown said...

DC Water has now updated their post on the Bloomingdale web page with more info about the backflow preventer program.

Casey said...

"Very simply," it's the homeowner and DCRA's responsibility to make sure that work complies with the law, not DC Water. Adding these requirements only serves one purpose - making sure that there will be fewer reimbursements.

bm125t said...

Since DC Water has chosen to take issue with the original post, let me correct a few inaccuracies with what they have stated as fact. DC Water has had more that one inquiry about what to do if a customer used a non DC licensed plumber to install a backflow preventer. I know because, I am the customer in Bloomingdale who submitted the question. I still have yet to hear back from DC Water with an answer to my question. Maybe if DC Water's external affair department spent more time actually respondind to questions posed by Bloomingdale and Le Droit Park residents we wouldn't have these issues. DC Water's granstanding is becoming very frustrating to deal with. I'm tired of hearing that they are here to help, and then having them attack neighbors who are trying to help get the word out. Maybe if DC Water, specifically Mr Hawkins or Mr Briggs could actually respond to customers inquiries in a timely fashion, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

I'm comforted to know that DC Water now has a team of no fewer than ten people working on short term solutions. I mean, its not like they haven't known for years that Bloomingdale was prone to flooding due to inferior infrastructure. Its not like, they commisioned a study in 2006 that told them that the flooding would continue to be an issue as they added new customers onto already overloaded sewer lines.

In the mean time, I look forward to DC Water pushing forward with the PR campaign, telling residents in the ngihborhood that they are working hard on our behalf; while at the same time, attacking residents who are only trying to get answers to simple questions.

Brice McCracken

PS- DC Water, please feel free to respond to my previous 6 emails which have gone unaswered by Mr Hawkins and Mr Briggs. I look forward to you guys finally doing what you have promised.

Linwood Norman said...

DC WATER "consultation" --

Just had this done today and it was fruitless. While the two people were nice, they were able to offer NOTHING in information that I didn't already know. What we really need is for DC WATER to make available a PLUMBER to come out and give a consultation. The two people today referred my questions to a plumber -- so it was really a waste of time for me.

Bloomingdale Resident said...

Agreed. I shudder to think of the amount of "ratepayer funds" being spent on this service. I think a consultation from DC Greenworks might have been a better use of time and money.

Has anyone had a DC licensed plumber give an estimate or do any work?

Unknown said...

Getting plumber to do the work would be more expensive? How on earth does that make sense? I need to get a backflow preventer installed in my home, but now I'm not at all sure what to do. I feel like a plumber would be more qualified to get the job done, but I don't want to get bled dry.