A Fascinating Tale About Schematics

OK, the title of this blog post is admittedly clickbait; there’s nothing fascinating about schematics. But here’s the story.

Back in June of 2019, the PIWD was hosting public information sessions about backflow prevention. At the sessions, there was confusion about whether the backflow preventer had to go underground in a meter pit, or whether it could be placed inside a house with a drainback valve in the yard. If you didn’t follow that, you’re not alone… it seemed that people needed pictures instead of words to make their points and questions clear.

A member of the public submitted a Powerpoint slide deck containing a few schematics, possibly related to the questions and suggestions, and with a library of parts to make it easy to assemble new diagrams. This was emailed to the PIWD with the following text:

A couple of those in attendance suggested that more diagrams would have been helpful, and that seems reasonable.  (This may be useful when developing the survey or inspection form as well.)  If something like the attached would be helpful to you, I can develop it into a more final form.  (At present, you’ll have to use your imagination as to what the captions would be.)

Random Member of the Public

Well, it turns out that the PIWD was in fact in need of some schematics. Near the bottom of page 2 of a corrective action plan, in a section entitled “Mar 2019: Develop Customer Guidelines”, there is a task to “generate/find general schematics for above-ground and pit installation” and “post on website by April 1”. Well, they didn’t quite make that deadline, but thanks to the slide deck, they had material that could be used. The resulting document was attached to the main page of pih2o.org with the title of “General schematics of example installations”, and no additional text or descriptions.

Those slides should look familiar. But remember, they were developed by a non-expert who made some of them to help ask and answer questions, not by an expert with a concrete proposal of what people ought to be doing!

Those slides got noticed (we’ll get to how this may have happened in a moment). Questions were asked. DOH demanded a correction and the “general schematics of example installations” had to be updated. It is possible that the resulting uncertainty about what customers did cast doubt on the whole cross-connection control program (see particularly items 4-6). (But it is also possible that, since the CCCP couldn’t possibly have eliminated the bacterial contamination, that this is of no consequence at all.)

The story also comes with a slightly more dramatic side story. Concerns about the schematics were (rightly) raised to RIDOH by a PIWD employee. The PIWD operations manager (who has now since resigned) was asked by the board to reprimand the PIWD employee for insubordination. As this employee was executing his duty to bring sanitary defects in the system to the attention of the health department, this reprimand reflects badly on the board and the former operations manager.

At this point, it is too late to make much difference. RIDOH has required chlorination for a number of reasons, any of which would have been sufficient taken individually. The operations manager has resigned, and I suppose the matter has been mostly forgotten. But hopefully the story has given you a bit of insight into the workings of the PIWD and its board.

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