This Fall, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection could require almost all Palm Beach county homeowners to install backflow prevention devices in front yards near the water meter. The cost per homeowner could be about $500 to a private contractor whom he or she selects.

In addition, homeowners would be required to pay a licensed plumber roughly $60 every year to test the device. If a homeowner does not have the test, water utility officials can suspend water service.

The DEP cites “increasing concerns” about water safety and potential contamination, especially in more-populated South Florida, prompting further enforcement of regulations that have been on the books for years.

Those opposed to the proposed requirement call backflows “an unnecessary redundancy” that should have been installed when the homes were built, and that “making people pay for this during these tough economic times is crazy,” according to The Palm Beach Post.

Meetings are being scheduled with local and statewide utility, environmental and health representatives. The DEP, which will make the final decision, expects to announce new requirements in October, says Van Hoofnagle, administrator for the agency's drinking-water program. “It's an expensive form of protection," Hoofnagle told The Palm Beach Post. “The system we have is not good enough.”

Private homes are protected by underground valves, located next to the water meters, to prevent public drinking-water contamination. The underground valves are not designed to be checked regularly, so they are not tested annually by utility officials, said Hassan Hadjimiry, director of the county water utilities department's regulatory compliance division.

The proposed aboveground backflow devices have ports that can be used to quickly check whether they are working. All homes without backflow devices that use water from canals, wells or lakes for irrigation would be required to install them. In unincorporated Palm Beach County, about 150,000 homes, or about eight of 10, lack backflow devices. The percentage of customers with backflow devices varies with the utility.

If the DEP enforces the regulations, the devices will be required for new and existing homes. Countywide, aboveground backflow devices are required for commercial and multifamily buildings. They are much larger than the proposed residential backflow devices.

The backflow device prevents mixing of drinking and treated water from flowing into the public water system by maintaining a constant higher pressure in its pipes. Such contamination required West Palm Beach water customers to boil water for 10 days in October 2007.

The DEP plans to hold at least one meeting open to the public in July on the proposed installation of backflow prevention devices. For information, call 850-245-8623, go online to www.dep.state.fl.us or e-mail daniel.peterson@dep.state.fl.us