Unfortunately, geysers like this are becoming a common sight around Coloardo Springs as thieves get more and more aggressive stealing expensive copper backflow valves.
From one end of the city to the other, irrigation systems are being targeted. The result is expensive repairs and wasted water. A gusher like this one spouts upwards of 150 to 200 gallons per second.
And thieves are so bold they come back time and again after the valves are replaced, at a cost to the customer of hundreds apiece, said Scot Smelker, president of All American Landscape Co.
His company has a contract to maintain irrigation systems in city parks and on private property all over the Springs. He said no region is immune.
Even worse, thieves no longer are detered by steel cages the city had started using to protect the valves.
Smelker said thieves simply put a chain on the cages and rip them from their concrete bases.
On May 24, a traffic stop led to the arrests of William Matuska, 44, and Bruce Williams, 48. Police believe the pair committed more than 50 thefts over the past six to 12 months, causing an estimated $150,000 worth of damage.
Not only are copper thieves leaving neighborhood parks high and dry, they are leaving neighborhoods in the dark because they are targeting the copper wires in streetlights.
These creeps are risking electrocution to pull the wire from city streetlights.
Smelker believes scrap metal dealers ought to be held accountable for facilitiating the thefts.
He blames them for not policing their purchases of backflow valves and wire.
In fact, he said a “sting” operation recently showed him there’s a thriving black market for the backflow valves. Smelker said his supplier took three new valves, which cost $200 to $500 apiece, to a scrap metal dealer who paid $78 cash and tossed them into a crate of similar valves.
“There were crates and crates of backflow valves,” Smelker said. “Pallets of them everywhere. The guy took the valves, handed over the cash and out the door.”
Smelker said a new state law requiring scrap dealers to check the identification of anyone selling more than $300 of precious metals has “too many loopholes.”
But it’s a start.
He also likes the idea of neighborhoods getting more involved in policing their parks for copper thieves.
The city recently issued a plea for folks to call police – 444-7000 – or text “CSPD” to 847411 on their mobile devices when they see suspicious activity. It could be men “working” on streetlights or irrigation systems.
Many besides Smelker blame the scrap metal industry for the spike in copper thefts and point to reports like this on the website of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries showing record earnings.
In its defense, the institute points to its aggressive campaign to stop the purchase of stolen metal whether it’s wiring, backflow valves, beer kegs, automobile catalytic converters or more.
It also offers posters for its dealers to print out and display.