The Coachella Valley Water District says metal theft is at an all time high. In January, 169 of back flow valves were stolen, nearly as many as all of last year.
"The thieves have very little regard for the material they're stealing," said Coachella Valley Water District Assistant Director of Operations, Mike Hererra said.
CVWD says it may have to increase a monthly service charge to businesses that have back flow valves. The devices are used to protect domestic water sources from potential contamination. Replacing them and adding anti-theft safety devices costs much more than any thief will get out of selling the metal for scrap.
"I've heard ranges of $15-20 scrap value," Hererra said. The district's costs are anywhere from $1500 to $2000 to re-install."
Just last week, three east valley recyclers were cited by the sheriff's department for purchasing illegal metals. The District Attorney has yet to file charges.
With so much metal theft and relatively arrests and prosecutions, we asked the mayor of Coachella if the city can discourage purchasing of illegal metals by revoking business licenses for recyclers caught breaking the law.
"I think you raise a good question in terms of whether or not local government can have some jurisdiction over the revoking of a business license," Eduardo Garcia said. "I think that's a great idea and certainly something that we'll put forward to explore as a possibility."
The water district says law enforcement needs everyone's help to stop metal theft.
"If you see somebody suspicious out there working,"Hererra said, "Call law enforcement."
State assemblyman Brian Nestande is drafting legislation to address metal theft. He's proposing an increased wait period to be paid for scrap metal. He says law enforcement needs more training and funding for metal theft, and a regional data base that crosses county lines should be set up.
"It's almost syndicated now," Nestande said of metal theft. "You have lower level people hand it to somebody and they hand it to somebody else that moves it out of the area."
Nestande plans to introduce a metal theft bill to the California legislature by the end of the month.