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Backflow Prevention Program Stirs Controversy
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A state mandate to protect municipal water supply quality by having all businesses install backflow valves or preventers is creating some controversy in Riverbank. Discussed at the last council meeting, the matter is due back for a decision at the Monday, June 28 session.

Estimating more than 600 businesses will require the valves at an installation cost ranging from about $200 to $2,000 depending on size, Riverbank City Council members proposed at the last meeting to offer one year loans at either zero interest or with a small administrative fee.

But former mayor Charles Neal and others noted the city installed backflow preventers for 21 businesses at a cost of $52,000 to speed up downtown redevelopment in 2008 and charged the cost to the water fund, not the businesses.

So now council members including Mayor Virginia Madueno are saying those 21 businesses "should pay their fair share."

On June 14, Fair Deal Market manager Kenny Auyeung protested an estimated cost for his business of between $2,200 and $4,000 and called it "discriminatory and unfair."

Public Works Director Dave Melilli told the council he advised in 2008 the costs be charged "to the project" not the water fund. About 660 businesses will need some type of backflow preventer, he said, and city is preparing a priority list where the businesses "most at risk" will be handled first. Size of piping, one- or two- or three-inch diameter, will determine the price.

The state may someday require preventers be retrofitted in older homes, he warned, but at the moment is interested only in businesses.

The state mandated backflow preventers in 2001 but it took until 2007 and 2008 for cities to find a mechanism to enforce the requirement.

Melilli said the city is using business licenses as a tracking device and denying a business license to businesses that do not take steps to install the devices. Madueno criticized that procedure, saying the city is trying to stimulate businesses, not drive companies away.

The city originally proposed to require loan repayment on a monthly basis over a period of six months and to charge a simple interest rate of .5 percent on the loan but has now eased those requirements.

While the State Department of Health Services passed regulations on backflow preventers back in 2001, the city at that time had limited funds in its water department and only one staff member trained in the testing of backflow preventers and he was close to retirement.

Some backflow preventers were installed in 2007 because the city was tearing up roads for redevelopment in the downtown and the work made it convenient and necessary to install preventers at that time. But the city was unable to fully implement the program.

In 2007, the state again inspected the city's water system and cited the city for failure to comply on preventers, noting the overall program was not very well organized and needed significant improvement.

Now the Public Works Department is working toward establishing a more formal cross connection control program and wants the loan program established before it enforces the program, said Melilli.