Bill Capo / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS -- Glen Mercer received three letters from the Sewerage and Water Board demanding he pay to have a piece of plumbing he had never heard of inspected, or face a stunning penalty.

'Look, you need to have your backflow valve inspected, or we're going to turn off your water,' Mercer said. 'Well, that got my attention.'

'That is the last possible option to us,' responded Joe Becker, the Sewerage & Water Board general superintendent, 'but it is the final option, and the state will require that we do that if we can't verify that the backflow prevention inspection has been taken care of.'

So what the heck is a backflow prevention device anyway? Joe found his behind the bushes.

'A backflow preventer is very important,' said Becker. 'What it is a device that prevents contaminants from coming back up the pipe and into the potable water system.'

The Orleans Parish Sewerage & Water Board says federal and state officials are ordering them to make customers inspect backflow preventers each year. So in April they began sending letters to about 15,000 customers, including 4500 homeowners.

'Many of the businesses that are in Orleans Parish will have backflow preventers. If you have a separate sprinkler system, an automatic sprinkler system at your home, at a residential home, then you'll have a backflow preventer system that is associated with it,' Becker said. 'Most homes do not have this at all.'

The Public Health section of the state's Administrative Code has seven pages about backflow prevention devices, and it specifies that the owners of the property are responsible for getting them tested every year by specially certified plumbers, and that test will cost you a little bit.

'You can expect to pay between maybe $150 to $250,' said Becker.

'$245 a year -- my water bill runs $80 to $90 a month, so that is a 20 to 25 percent surcharge,' Mercer responded.

But Jefferson Parish doesn't require homeowners with backflow preventers to have them tested every year.

'Annual inspections are done on commercial valves only,' said Donald Landrieu of the Jefferson Plumbing Department.

The Sewerage and Water Board says they are reworking the letters to customers to explain what backflow preventers are, and why the inspections need to be done.

For a list of local plumbers certified to perform the inspections, visit the agency website.

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