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The term backflow means any unwanted flow of used or non-potable water or substance from any domestic, industrial or institutional piping system into the pure, potable water distribution system. The direction of flow under these conditions is in the reverse direction from that intended by the system and normally assumed by the owner of the system. Backflow may be caused by numerous specific conditions; but, basically the reverse pressure gradient may be due to either a loss of pressure in the supply main called backsiphonage, or by the flow from a customer's pressurized system through an unprotected cross-connection, which is called backpressure. Thus the term backflow covers both a backsiphonage condition and a backpressure condition. A reversal of flow in a distribution main--or in the customer's system--can be created by any change of system pressure wherein the pressure at the supply point becomes lower than the pressure at the point of use. When this happens in an unprotected situation the water at the point of use will be siphoned back into the system; thus, potentially polluting or contaminating the remainder of the customer's system. Types of Backflow Preventers An Air Gap is a physical separation of the supply pipe by at least two pipe diameters (never less than one inch) vertically above the overflow rim of the receiving vessel. In this case line pressure is lost. Therefore, a booster pump is usually needed downstream, unless the flow of the water by gravity is sufficient for the water use. With an air gap there is no direct connection between the supply main and the equipment. An air gap may be used to protect against a contaminant or a pollutant, and will protect against both backsiphonage and backpressure. An air gap is the only acceptable means of protecting against lethal hazards. The Atmospheric (non-pressure) Type Vacuum Breaker (AVB) is always placed downstream from all shut-off valves. Its air inlet valve closes when the water flows in the normal direction. But, as water ceases to flow the air inlet valve opens, thus interrupting the possible backsiphonage effect. If piping or a hose is attached to this assembly and run to a point of higher elevation, the backpressure will keep the air inlet valve closed because of the pressure created by the elevation of water. Hence, it would not provide the intended protection. The Pressure Vacuum Breaker (PVB) includes a check valve which is designed to close with the aid of a spring when flow stops. It also has an air inlet valve which is designed to open when the internal pressure is one psi above atmospheric pressure so that no non-potable liquid may be siphoned back into the potable water system. Being spring loaded it does not rely upon gravity as does the atmospheric vacuum breaker. This assembly includes resilient seated shut-off valves and testcocks. The Double Check Valve Assembly consists of two internally loaded, independently operating check valves together with tightly closing resilient seated shut-off valves upstream and downstream of the check valves. The DC may be used to protect against a pollutant only. However, this assembly is suitable for protection against either backsiphonage or backpressure. The Reduced Pressure Principle (RP) assembly consists of two internally loaded independently operating check valves and a mechanically independent, hydraulically dependent relief valve located between the check valves. This relief valve is designed to maintain a zone of reduced pressure between the two check valves at all times. This assembly is used for the protection of the potable water supply from either pollutants or contaminants and may be used to protect against either backsiphonage or backpressure. The Double Check Detector Assembly DCDA is composed of a line-sized double check valve assembly with a specific bypass meter and meter-sized double check valve assembly. The meter registers accurately for very low flow rates to detect any unauthorized use of water. This assembly is used when the protection of a double check valve assembly is required, yet where the added requirement of detecting any leakage or unauthorized use of water exists. The information contained within this article was reprinted courtesy of the University of Southern California's Foundation for Cross-Connection Control and Hydraulic Research. For more information about backflow prevention visit or call (213) 740-2032.

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March 22, 2017, 3:08 pm PDT

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Last Updated 03-20-17