High prices on copper and brass are sparking a local crime spree as would-be metal merchants rip off water meters and backflow devices. Over the weekend Valley Center Municipal Water District customers at several locations were the victims of meter and backflow device theft. On Saturday VC Community Hall was hit. A 3/4 inch meter and a 3/4 inch backflow device were stolen. Parks and Rec. District Gen. Mgr. Doug Johnsen Monday confirmed the theft. “It was stolen probably late Friday or early Saturday,” said Johnsen. “Someone at the fire department heard cars riding around in a big puddle next to the community hall.” Firefighters came over and shut the water off and then called Johnsen, who arrived shortly, inspected the damage and called the water district. Several thousand gallons of water were lost before the valve was shut off. The devices weren’t very deep in the ground. “They took the valve box off and just yanked it out of the ground. It looked like they grabbed on with a chain,” Johnsen said. In recent days five backflow devices, five meters, one double check and one construction meter have been taken from properties within the district. At this writing the stolen metal was valued at $4,619.72. Some speculate that these thefts are tied to U.S. metal shortages, particularly in copper and copper alloys such as brass. This, in turn, is being exacerbated by rising metal consumption in China. As the shortage continues, the price of metal rises. Water district Gen. Mgr. Gary Arant told The Roadrunner, “We will be alerting the local salvage yards to look for meters and backflow devices and not take them unless they check with us. Each unit has a serial number which can be checked. Hopefully this will stem the US activity, but there is always the possibility that these things could be taken [out of the the country.]” Operations Manager Greg Hoyle explained that the price of copper and brass has gone up and that thieves have been known to show up at local recyclers to try to sell the metal. Last year fire hydrant caps were also popular for thieves. According to the district, brass water meters, and other parts associated with public water supply are routinely stolen. Gen. Mgr. Gary Broomell said, “This is not just an issue of receiving stolen property as it deals with tampering with the public water supply. All cases will be forwarded to the District Attorney for prosecution. Meters and backflow devices are not cheap to replace, each costing several hundred dollars. The district will replace the meters, but the customers will have to replace the backflow devices.