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Lawn Sprinkler Installation In Illinois
April 2000

The return to warm weather has generated a number of telephone calls regarding backflow protection on lawn sprinkler systems. The recent passage of legislation to register lawn sprinkler contractors has caused some additional confusion. The following information was prepared to help water consumers become familiar with the requirements for backflow protection.

The Illinois Plumbing Code, 77 Ill. Adm. Code 890.1140(d) specifically requires that a reduced pressure principle backflow preventer assembly (RPZ) be installed on all lawn sprinkler systems to protect the potable water supply. This is a retroactive requirement due to health hazard concerns, as there have been recent documented cases of nematodes (which frequently thrive in lawn sprinkler systems) being drawn into home and neighboring plumbing. Thus, the possibility of nematode contamination, entry of fecal coliform or other microbiological contaminants due to pet or animal waste deposited on or near sprinkler heads, and possible chemigation practices (application of pesticides, weed killers, or fertilizers in proximity to or through lawn sprinkler systems), make this connection to the potable water supply system a high hazard.

Both Agency regulations, 35 Ill. Adm. Code 653.802(e)(1). and the Plumbing Code, 77 Ill. Adm. Code 890.1130, require testing of the backflow assembly at the time of installation and at least annually thereafter. RPZs cannot be installed in a pit, as they are subject to flooding. If left connected to the system through winter months, the assembly must be protected against freezing. A HotBox or HydroCowl decorative rock can be used when aesthetics are important.

Many lawn sprinkler owners remove the assembly in the fall when the system is blown out to prepare it for winter. The assembly is stored in a heated basement or garage. When the system is serviced and put back into use in the spring, the RPZ assembly is installed, tested and ready for another summer season.

The recent Lawn Sprinkler Contractor Registration program does not impact the need to include lawn sprinkler systems in the water utility cross-connection program inventory of cross-connections. This registration program does not include a test of competency, nor does it allow the registered party to make determinations in conflict with Illinois EPA or Illinois Department of Public Health requirements. Water purveyors should continue to include lawn sprinkler systems as a potential hazard to the quality of drinking water in the public water distribution system, and should continue to require that annual testing be performed each spring, with a copy of the test results placed on file with the water company.

If you have additional questions, contact Dean Thady, Plumbing Program, Illinois Department of Public Health, 217-524-0791, or Lou Allyn Byus, Illinois EPA Division of Public Water Supplies, Field Operations, 217-782-1020.


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