Less than two months into 2014, the Coachella Valley Water District is on its way to losing more equipment to metal thieves this year than it did in 2013.
On Thursday, the water agency reported that 177 pieces of equipment have been stolen since Jan. 1, along with three unsuccessful attempted thefts. At this rate, the number of stolen items could easily surpass the 190 backflow devices that were stolen in 2013.
The majority of the thefts involved backflow devices, which help water flow in the right direction.
Fifty nine devices were stolen Jan. 19-25, and another 43 were stolen the following week.
The week before Jan. 19, though, there were 32 thefts — breaking the previous record of 19 thefts in a single week, according to CVWD.
Most of the agency’s 10,000 devices are used by businesses and landscaping companies. The agency covers the $1,400 cost of replacing them, but it’s up to property owners to pay for other repairs.
Thieves typically try to sell the equipment to recycling yards for a few dollars, but property owners are hit hardest when it comes to repair costs.
“We’re looking at expenses close to a quarter of a million dollars in just the first 45 days of the year,” CVWD General Manager Jim Barrett said. “This is unprecedented and if these thefts continue at this rate, the costs could unfortunately get passed along to all of our domestic water customers.”
At least two Coachella Valley schools have been affected by metal thefts in recent months. On Nov. 26, an overnight metal theft shut off James Madison Elementary School’s water supply and students and staff at the Indio school had to use portable toilets. More recently, on Jan. 31, a metal thief damaged a water pipe and flooded Bubbling Wells Elementary School near Desert Hot Springs, causing students to go home early.
Services at Bubbling Wells are overseen by the Mission Springs Water District.