I haven't got a bad word to say about this business. The property managers are so knowledgeable and willing to help. The business has all my properties and I just can't praise them enough. Montanna Long
Thousands of businesses in the Northern Territory have been given just weeks to make sure their plumbing isn't creating a potential hazard to the local water supply.
Power and Water has notified around 4,000 customers concerning backflow — when water flows from a property to the public drinking supply — and implored them to assess their properties.
But some owners say they are concerned it could cost them thousands of dollars if backflow-prevention devices are required.
Humpty Doo businessman Phil Barker said he received a letter warning that his property, which he has owned for more than 10 years, was non-compliant and potentially hazardous.
"That can potentially cause a contamination issue, and that's currently my problem," he told ABC Radio Darwin's Jolene Laverty.
The letter also warned that failure to undertake an assessment within 21 days could result in water supply being disconnected.
Stephen Porter, Power and Water's general manager of water services, said the issue first arose a decade ago when an audit identified 2,000 customers as risks.
"Over the past 10 years, any new property or development that's come on board that has required one of these [prevention] devices has been part of obtaining their certificate of compliance," Mr Porter said.
"Now, we've gone back and had another look and we've identified 6,000 properties and we have an obligation to do something about it.
"The water we provide is chlorinated and disinfected, however if something happens within the system and there is backflow within these properties, then there is a potential risk and that's what we're trying to address."
Customers to foot the bill
The issue requires plumbers to undertake assessment work and provide a risk rating, which could prompt the installation of a backflow prevention device if necessary.
Mr Barker showed quotes to the ABC that suggested the work would involve digging up concrete and cost, in one scenario, more than $2,000.
He also questioned whether plumbers would be prepared to sign off on low-risk properties which they could eventually be liable for.
"It almost seems like a conflict of interest that no plumber would ever come and deem a premise as being low risk, because they'd be accountable for any issue that might eventuate in the future.
"The other thing is that that plumber would then miss out on the couple of thousand dollars to install the backflow-prevention valve."
Power and Water defended asking property owners to foot the bill.
"Like everything else, if it's on their side, with their operation of business, they have the responsibility," Mr Porter said.
Handling of issue questioned
A string of Territory entrepreneurs have closed their businesses in recent weeks, with many laying the blame on a challenging economic period.
"It couldn't have come at a worse time," Mr Barker said.
MLA Gerry Wood's electorate of Nelson encompasses a number of property owners affected by the backflow issue and he questioned the urgency of the maintenance works.
"They are important, but I think it's the way that Power and Water have dealt with this [that's the issue]," he said.
"People have operated without [prevention valves] for years, and all of a sudden they get a letter that says if you don't fix this up within 21 days, that's it, you'll get your water turned off."
He called upon authorities to make the expenses less burdensome for business owners.
Mr Porter said Power and Water was happy to work with customers who needed additional time to make the upgrades if required.