MWQA Submits Request For Interpretation to Plumbing Board
The Association is asking for clarification on remote bypass requirements for water softeners.
The Department of Labor and Industry is pushing an interpretation of the Minnesota Plumbing Code that requires remote by-passes on water softeners. The by-passes that connect to water softeners and have become the industry standard are being disallowed. Inspectors are requiring that water softeners be re-installed with three independent valves.
The concept was a shock to attendees of the October 2021 MWQA conference when it was presented by Tom Eisert, Southwest District Plumbing Inspector for the State of Minnesota. The presentation created many questions, and many assumed that the interpretation was in error, as Mr. Eisert was new to the Department. None in attendance had heard the concept previously proposed, but Brad Jensen, Chief Plumbing Inspector, was in attendance and supported Mr. Eisert’s interpretation.
Mr. Jensen presented the idea to a Minnesota Building Officials conference in January. Officials at that meeting were also surprised and asked many questions. Some expressed reservations about the need and cost.
DLI has not provided written notice to plumbers, water conditioning contractors or to MWQA of the details of the new requirement. The general concept expressed in the October meeting and in phone calls to the Department is that a contractor must build a by-pass that will allow the installation of a unit of a different manufacturer without shutting off the water. DLI has not yet specified the appropriate distance that a by-pass must be from a water softener, at what elevation the connections must be (or if the distancing requirements will apply to water heater shut off valves). While the now-common by-passes include unions or other quick connections, that is not a requirement of the interpretation. Cutting the piping is allowed for removal if the by-pass stays in place.
The actual language of the new Minnesota 2020 Code (611.5) requires that the valves shall allow the equipment to be “serviced or removed without the need for shutting off the water.”
MWQA knows of no previous push for this change – not from homeowners, building contractors, plumbers or building officials. Similarly, the national Water Quality Association has not heard of any State or jurisdiction with this requirement. All major manufacturers have embraced the integral by-pass appurtenance and it is well accepted by consumers. The two main plumbing codes in use in the U.S., the Universal Plumbing Code (UPC) and the International Plumbing Code, do not require water softener by-passes at all. Minnesota Code is based on the UPC, but Minnesota added by-pass language to the Code in 2017 at the request of MWQA and others.
The interpretation is being introduced in a few Twin Cities suburbs, but no printed material or advance notification of the change is being provided when pulling permits. Instead, plumbers and water conditioning contractors are being notified only at the time of inspection and asked to return to the job and re-install the equipment. Edina, St. Louis Park, Blaine, Maple Grove and Brooklyn Center are using the interpretation. At least two suburbs have resisted, and one has reversed its advocacy of the remote by-pass.
Until May, MWQA felt that the Department would clarify or reconsider the interpretation. Mike Westemeier, the Department of Labor and Industry representative on the Plumbing Board, explained to Jeff Hill in June that the Department was holding to Brad Jensen’s interpretation, citing the 2019 RFA that added the residential by-pass requirement. Mr. Westemeier pointed out the written justification at the time — “to clarify the requirement for isolation valves,” and “as necessary for repair or replacement of water conditioning equipment without disrupting the water supply to the plumbing fixtures in a building.”
Mike Herman, the Water Conditioning Representative on the Plumbing Board, inquired about the by-pass language when it was proposed. Mike was told that the change was, in fact, just clarification of the requirement for a by-pass. Mike was heavily involved in the Minnesota 2020 code and spent many hours reviewing the improvements that Minnesota makes to the national code. Mr. Herman and Mr. Hill were both involved in introducing the original by-pass language in 2017.
MWQA has now filed a formal Request for Interpretation to the Minnesota Plumbing Board. That request and a cover letter of explanation are available here. The Plumbing Board meets on July 19, 2022. MWQA members are encouraged to write to the Plumbing Board with comments. Keep it professional – Plumbing Board members were not made aware of this interpretation when the by-pass requirement was passed.
MWQA’s main points to the Board are that 1) this is not a correct interpretation 611.5, 2) the appropriate process was not followed for discussion, awareness and implementation of such a change, and 3) the cost to the consumer is not justified.
The official address for comments in email@example.com. You may write individual board members at https://www.dli.mn.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/plumbingboard_members.pdf. Note that Board members are volunteers who are appointed by the Governor, in part, based on the group or region that they represent.
Chloride Reduction Program for Non-Residential Softening Funded through State of Minnesota
MWQA is working with Fortin Consulting and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to continue keeping waterways in Avon, Altura and Medina, Minnesota, clear of chloride contamination. Water softening is one source of chloride contaminating Minnesota’s freshwater ecosystems, especially those that are connected to wastewater treatment facilities. There’s no economical way to remove chloride from a community’s wastewater, so the best practice for these situations is limiting chloride use at the source.
If you work in Altura, Avon, or Medina at a commercial, industrial, or other non-residential facility that has a water softener, optimize your equipment to help minimize chloride pollution! Commercial and industrial businesses are eligible for free softening system optimizations through MWQA, as well as recommendations and assistance with improvements or replacements. Cost share funding for qualifying chloride reduction opportunities is available through MPCA and the Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment.
Participation in this program is now closed, but future communities are expected to be added. Contact the MWQA if you are interested.
This project is made possible through funding from the Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment administered by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.