City Shuts Off Water to Backflow Protesters

The Columbia Falls City Council weathered a mini-revolt Sept. 16. But instead of throwing boxes of tea into a bay, the protesters refused to pay inspectors to check equipment intended to protect the city’s water system.

The backflow prevention program began in Columbia Falls in 2000. The goal is to prevent organic or chemical contamination at residential, commercial or industrial sites from flowing back into the municipal water system.

“Columbia Falls is the only city in the Flathead that doesn’t chlorinate its drinking water, which is expensive and tastes bad,” city manager Susan Nicosia said.

For residential sites, the source of contamination could include underground irrigation systems, fish ponds or hot water heating systems. Owners must pay for both annual testing and repairs to ensure the devices are working.

Getting Serious

About 296 of the city’s 1,840 residential water customers have backflow prevention devices in place, including the hundred or so added last year when the city increased efforts to track customers.

Last year, the city also moved the inspection deadline to Aug. 1 to better coincide with the irrigation season and directed city staff to increase compliance. Some customers, however, are reluctant to comply, Nicosia said.

“This year, for the first time since the inception of the program, the Public Works Department enforced the code and shut off water to properties refusing to test their backflow prevention devices,” Nicosia said. “The city doesn’t like shutting off anyone’s water, but the codes are meant to be enforced in an equal and non-discriminatory manner.”

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