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Backflow valve thefts cause problems for city businesses, infrastructure

Jul 25, 2023

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — In Kern County, we're all too familiar with catalytic converter theft, but there's a new kind of property theft on the rise that's targeting city infrastructure.

Backflow valves are found around commercial and business buildings, and they allow for the building to have access to clean water that businesses use for making drinks and preparing food.

"They're made of solid brass," said local plumbing contractor Lonnie Gonzales. "Very little springs and very little non-brass product in it. They're very heavy, and brass is as good as copper. It's a salvage and recyclable material."

Being cut off from the backflow valve could mean that the businesses relying on that water would have to delay service or even close temporarily.

Gonzales says that on Monday his team noticed 6 backflow valves around Buena Vista Road that were cut out, and then another 4 the next day missing around the nearby Coffee Bean, and another cut out from St. John's Church.

The manager of the Coffee Bean declined an on-camera interview, but did say they noticed their backflow was cut at around 4:30 Wednesday morning. The incident was caught on camera.

Security camera footage shows someone walking in the direction of the store's backflow plug.

Gonzales says these backflow valves often cost more than the thieves are selling the metal for to replace.

"They could probably get $30 bucks, $25 bucks, $30 for a unit. But the cost to replace them at the wholesale level is $980 bucks," said Gonzales.

Coffee Bean management says this was their situation exactly, losing roughly $1,500 in sales. The manager says what hurt most was not just turning away customers during rush hour, but having to send home employees who rely on getting their hours.

Gonzales says the cost for just the valve doesn't take into consideration the costs associated with installation, and says people should feel lucky if they can keep the cost to replace their backflow valve under $2,000.

"I quoted the owner who had the one stolen, they're $2,200 to replace it," said Gonzales. "I also recommended to them that they put a concrete pad and a steel cage over it. It's nothing less than $3,500 dollars."

Gonzales says even implementing the cages can only go so far. He says he's noticed that thieves will just cut bigger holes regardless of the cage, ultimately creating an additional repair cost.

"It's just a hindrance. They can barely get to the lock, so if they don't bring enough tools, it's just a hindrance," said Gonzales.

At this time, there are no laws specifically geared toward backflow valve thefts. Gonzales says it's unfortunate that there isn't much people can do to protect their businesses, but he does urge people to consider installing cages around their backflows to hopefully deter thefts.


The property crime rate isn't just on the rise in Kern County. It's also increased across California in recent months.

According to the Public Policy Insititute of California, the state's property crime rate increased by 2.4 percent between 2020 and 2021.

The Policy Institute says that of all reported property crimes in California in 2021, 63 percent were larceny thefts, 16 percent were burglaries, and 21 percent were auto thefts.