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Will Your Community Be Next?

Aug 13 2013, 6:46pm

Will Your Community Be Next?

Backflow Valve Theft

By Jay Mark Conrad

January 2004


If you were like me, backflow valves would be unknown territory in your everyday living databank of knowledge.  My first experience with one happened when I turned off the outdoor faucet at my new home in Sun City Grand.  Water spewed out from the anti-siphon fitting, drenching my pant legs from the knees down.  Customer Service dignified my complaint with an explanation about water hose backflow, and the need to keep it from polluting my potable water supply.  Whether the valve is something as simple as the one on my facet, or more complex like the ones used for commercial businesses, the need to furnish reliable backflow protection is a very real part of our daily lives.  Essentially, anytime you use water for residential or commercial purposes, you’re in need of a backflow valve to prevent fresh water contamination.  Some community associations are becoming keenly aware of another aspect of their value, potential profit to others through theft.


Sally Reynolds, association president for Golden Ridge on the West side, reports that her community is experiencing vandalism of its backflow valves, which are used at water retention areas.  Within the past six months, two valves have been taken, even though the association uses a padlocked, mesh cage to protect them.  Sally says this is a costly replacement item for her small association.


Replacement costs are significant, averaging about $1,000 for the valve and its installation.  Jeff Keim of Backflow Prevent Device Inn Closures agrees that replacement costs are significant.  He has been aware for many years that the devices are being stolen, but says the theft rate has increased dramatically in recent years.  “Vandals and thieves have become so bold lately that they routinely cut off padlocks and steal backflow devices in broad daylight,” he adds.


The valve is usually protected by a cage, which sits on a concrete base.  An eyebolt is embedded in the concrete so that the unit can be padlocked.  Some units use two eyebolts.  Jeff says, “In the past, the mere presence of an enclosure generally was enough to persuade a thief to move on to some other unprotected assembly.  However, today’s thieves use bolt cutters on the padlock for fairly easy access.”  The valve is then cut from the connecting pipes or, as in one case, pulled off with a chain or truck.  “There are now companies that provide a more secure enclosure unit and a steel hood installed around the unit’s padlock,” adds Jeff,  “preventing the use of bolt cutters on the lock.”


“Additionally, the market offers security devices that eliminate the easily cut locks and eyebolts using, instead, a patent-pending design incorporating a slide-through bar and a keyed doughnut lock, which is accessible only through a small, partially enclosed opening,” adds Mitchell Owens of Cage-It Enterprises, Inc.  He has been surprised by the number of valves that have been stolen in close proximity to residences and advises, “The best theft deterrent is a watchful community.”


Officer Mark Ortega, crime prevention officer for the City of Surprise Police Department, says, “Thefts of backflow valves are commonplace everywhere in the Valley.”  In one case, he says thieves were successful due to the lack of adequate lighting and a $2.00 lock.  According to Officer Ortega, “Many of these valves end up doing their original job in a different location.”  He says the cost of the valves makes them attractive to anyone from “unscrupulous landscapers to desperate criminals in need of quick cash.”  He thinks most of the valves stolen and sold for scrap are the large, industrial types used by commercial businesses.  But for Sally Reynolds and her association, this was not the case.  So she’s looking for that ounce of prevention that saves her community a pound of cure!


Officer Ortega provides the following preventative suggestions:


  • Protect your association’s valves with cages and high quality locks.  (“It makes no sense to put a $500.00 valve in an expensive cage protected by a $1.50 lock.”)
  • Make sure that your landscaping doesn’t block valves from public view.
  • Keep valve locations well-lit when possible.
  • Engrave your association’s name and phone number on the valve, and keep a record of its serial number.


As a final suggestion, one with which I believe Sally would agree, association presidents would be well-advised to put this issue on their board’s agenda so that it does not become a part of their next budget presentation under unexpected expenses! 


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