RANCHO SANTA FE — Rancho Santa Fe Patrol units have been alerted to thefts in the area since residents began reporting the thefts of back flow preventer valves, including two that were reported stolen on July 19.
The back flow preventers serve as a safety check valve, said Matt Wellhouser, chief of the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol.
He said they are being stolen for the value of the materials they are made from.
Damian Garcia, an inspector with the Rancho Santa Fe Irrigation District, said the devices are made of brass, are connected to the system with copper and weigh between five and 10 pounds, depending on the size of pipes to which they are connected.
Metal recyclers pay nearly $4 per pound for copper, and $2.20 per pound for brass.
“What happens is people come home and find out they don’t have water. They call the water district thinking it’s a water distribution problem,” he said.
When they learn their device has been stolen, they have to go to the expense of getting it replaced. He said it can cost about $200 for the device itself and then there’s the cost of a plumber to install it.
“It can reach $500 pretty quickly, plus not having water in your house,” he said.
Wellhouser said these types of thefts are happening all over the country, not just in Rancho Santa Fe.
“They’ve stolen statuary, copper wire for telephone lines, copper pipes out of air conditioners,” he said. Construction sites are also a popular place from which to steal these metals.
He said because of the rise in these kinds of thefts, the state has stepped in and now requires metal recyclers to get the person’s information and wait for payment until the transaction has been run by local law enforcement.
“No surprise. There are metal dealers who don’t go through the proper channels to make sure they are not selling stolen metals,” Wellhouser said.
He said thieves will go to great lengths to steal these types of metals.
A few years back in Rancho Santa Fe, there was a couple who was caught in mid-cut trying to bring down a flag pole for the brass eagle ornament on the top.
As it turned out the eagle was plastic.
Wellhouser said there are ways to protect your backflow device, like enclosing it in a metal cage that can be locked.
And residents should keep their eyes open for suspicious people or cars loitering in the middle of the night. “They like the more rural areas because they can go undetected,” he said.
Residents should call 911 or call the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol at (858) 759-8588.