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It is the same old story. Businesses must comply with new or newly enforced government regulations -- or else. News about the need for back-flow water valves at existing businesses in Cape Girardeau came unexpectedly. And what options do businesses really have? When it comes to the heavy hand of government, none. Comply or lose your water service. Now there's a real choice.

The rules apply to controls on water lines that prevent dangerous chemicals and organisms from flowing back into the city's drinking water. Let's agree on one thing: No one wants dangerous contaminants in the city water system. Many of the affected businesses are owned or operated by the same people who voted a $26.5 million bond issue last November to improve the city's water supply.

The company that manages the city's water system cites what may be the most famous incident of problems with backflow water: an outbreak of Legionnaire's disease in Philadelphia in 1976 that killed 34 people. That was more than two decades ago. Why has the city waited more than 20 years for this recent enforcement push?

The Environmental Protection Agency began mandating backflow valves in the late 1980s. In 1991, Missouri followed suit, prohibiting any water hookups that include unprotected cross-connections. Any drinking water hookup that connects to the public water system must have some kind of approved backflow device.

Initially, the city targeted new construction. In July, the city told the water company to review existing construction as well. Inspections just began last month. More than 800 businesses and large apartment buildings were tagged for inspections.

Installing these backflow values can be an expensive proposition. Just one value for an 8-inch line can run $8,000 without installation. One business had to install 20 of these valves.

Another local business was told to install three new valves, one of which cost $8,500. The letter from the city mandated that the work be done in 30 days, but an extension may be granted. Thirty days for major improvements and hefty costs isn't very feasible, especially if the business wants to seek bids.

Granted, the city is enforcing state and federal guidelines. But when new enforcement guidelines come down the pike, government should be responsive enough to allow businesses some time and flexibility to react, especially if the price tag is steep.