Metal Theft & Tampering

Metal Thefts Hamper Water District Operations
Metal thefts, especially devices that protect domestic water from accidental contamination, have reached historic levels at Coachella Valley Water District.

Law enforcement is taking such thefts seriously, with Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies arresting suspected thieves while the District Attorney’s Office files charges against businesses suspected of purchasing prohibited metal items.

Report Potential Theft
CVWD encourages people who witness what they believe to be a metal theft to notify law enforcement right away. District employees normally do not work on backflow devices or hydrants after normal business hours, and when they do they wear uniforms that clearly identify them as water district employees and they operate vehicles that also are clearly identified.
Above-Ground Backflow Devices
Prevention & Enforcement
Water District representatives are among those from area utilities that work with law enforcement, prosecutors, local governments and commerce and the recycling/scrap metal industry at “policy roundtables,” hosted by a local Assembly member Brian Nestande, where stakeholders brainstorm more comprehensive reforms that address prevention and enforcement of existing laws.

Most often stolen from CVWD are backflow devices, which are installed on the pipe that brings domestic water from a water main into the customer’s water delivery system. The device prevents water that has circulated on the customer’s side of it from returning to the public domestic water supply line. To function properly, the type of backflow devices used by CVWD and other agencies must be installed above ground.

In 2013, a record 190 backflow devices were stolen, but in early 2014 the number of thefts suggested even more would be taken by year’s end.

Replacement  Costs
When stolen backflow devices are replaced, anti-theft hardware also is installed. The protected devices rarely suffer a repeat theft. Total cost to the district per stolen backflow device is about $1,400.

Adding to district losses in 2013 were nearly 45 fire hydrants, mostly installed in abandoned housing developments and not in operation, which also were stolen, with losses estimated at nearly $110,000.

Existing metal theft prevention laws include:
  • SB 844 created a 3-day waiting period for payment, required that thumbprints be taken of the seller and provided restitution to victims, paid by those convicted of selling or receiving stolen metals.
  • SB 691 ensured that copper, aluminum and stainless steel are included in the metals covered by anti-theft laws, and in addition to thumbprints required the seller to provide photographic identification and a current address.
  • SB 477 requires scrap metal / recycle businesses to provide daily reports to local law enforcement regarding what they are buying, and from whom.
  • SB 1895 created a $3,000 fine per instance for any buyer knowingly purchasing a fire hydrant or parts of a fire hydrant, including bronze/brass fittings. In addition to the whole fire hydrants, more than 90 CVWD hydrant caps, valued at $17,500, have been taken.
Penalties for Unauthorized Use
Tampering with your water meter or sewer system will result in tampering fees and possible civil penalties. A lien may be placed on properties with tampering and can be transferred to yearly property taxes.

Tampering with, or unauthorized use of water service is a violation of Coachella Valley Water District Regulations Governing Domestic Water Service, §9.6 - Unauthorized Use of Water or the Water System, §7-2.2 – Unauthorized Restoration, as well as violation of §498 of the California Penal Code are subject to damages pursuant to California Civil Code, §1882.
Unauthorized Use
Unauthorized installation / connection / use (each offense)
Unauthorized use of private fire protection service connection (detector checks) (each offense)
Cutting District lock or bypassing meter
Restoration of service after unauthorized installation / connection / use (per meter)
Damage to meter, pipeline, well site, or other component of the domestic water service infrastructure (or actual cost of repair, whichever is greater)
Broken meter stop / shutoff valve (each offense)
Additional Charge After an Unauthorized Restoration by Other than District Personnel
1st occurrence
2nd occurrence
3rd occurrence
4th occurrence