More Than an Inconvenience: From Water Main Break to Backflow Incident

We’ve all experienced the effects of water main breaks. We’ve seen them on the news. We’ve even had our commutes re-routed because of them. To say they cause inconvenience is an understatement…they are downright life-altering, even if only temporarily.

According to a 2013 report card on America’s infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the USA experiences 240,000 water main breaks a year, or an average of 657 breaks per day! It’s bad enough to be without service for routine maintenance when you are given notice. But water main breaks don’t give us a chance to prepare. Everyone from the provider to the consumer is blindsided.

The terrible inconvenience of a water main break is usually forgotten almost as suddenly as it occurred. We again enjoy a hot shower, a refreshing drink from the tap, and – lest we forget how awesome it is – we are once again able to flush the commode. Ah, life is good!

One thing that never crosses our minds when our day is disrupted by this common event is the hydraulic condition created by loss of pressure in the water line. This loss of pressure causes a phenomenon known as backsiphonage or backflow.

Why think about backsiphonage when a water line breaks? The truth is, we should be thinking about the probability of a break (and the resulting loss of pressure) every time we connect anything to a drinking water system. We should think about it when we use a hose that is connected to the drinking water or leave our kitchen sprayer lying in the bottom of the sink. We should ask ourselves, “Would I like what this connection is going to come in contact with to siphon back into my drinking water?” Maybe you never leave your hose submerged in a 55 gallon drum full of contaminated water. Or maybe you haven’t installed a homemade bidet like one that are often found.

Maybe you think backflow won’t happen to you, but the following story shows just how easily a large section of a water system can be affected by a mindless act, a single hose and a broken water main.

In 1987 one of the largest backflow insurance settlements –  $21 million – was awarded to 21 New Jersey homeowners after they sued a pest control company for contaminating the drinking water.

This backflow incident occurred when a construction crew accidentally broke a water main. Unfortunately, at the same time a pest control company (unrelated to the construction work) was rinsing out their pesticide-contaminated tank. The loss of pressure in the system created by the break siphoned the mix of water and pesticide back into the main, and the water supply to 63 homes was contaminated. Luckily nobody died, but that is little consolation to the victims whose health and well-being were affected.

This case demonstrates backflow on a rather large scale, and it didn’t take investigators long to find out how it occurred. Backflow incidents are not always so obvious or widespread. Most are confined to a single property. This means that what an individual does to their own plumbing connections on their property could adversely affect their family and nobody else. It is important that each person protects their drinking water by using proper cross-connection controls at their own home.

WaterPro maintains roughly 163 miles of water lines in our 10 square miles of service area. A small section of those lines was installed in 1928 and is still in service to this day. We have over 7,000 metered water connections that serve 33,000 residents. When you consider all of those things and factor in the 657 main breaks that occur in the U.S. each day, you can see how important it is for each of us to be aware of cross-connections on our own property. It is important to teach our kids and share knowledge with our neighbors and co-workers. By applying common sense and not cross-connecting, we can help protect our drinking water.

For more information about cross-connections in household plumbing, visit and click Construction. Maintaining the integrity of our drinking water is up to all of us.