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Copper thieves target wells

Residents of Muscoy in San Bernardino County are asked to conserve water after some tubing is stolen, damaging the equipment.

September 14, 2007|Sara Lin | Times Staff Writer

Thieves stole copper tubing from wells serving Muscoy in San Bernardino County on Wednesday night, shutting down three of the five and prompting water company officials to ask residents to conserve water.

In addition to damage to the Muscoy Mutual Water Co. wells, antenna and wires from the company's communications system were missing, said company supervisor Rudy Garcia.

The Sheriff's Department is investigating the incident as petty theft, said sheriff's spokeswoman Jodi Miller. The thieves took about $50 worth of copper.

"That's pretty cheap for the damage that they did," said Garcia, noting that the copper tubing is essential to keeping the water wells' motors running smoothly. Water company officials were able to repair two wells Thursday, but a third well that provides about one-fourth of the company's water will be out of commission for 10 days, Garcia said.

Water officials are asking residents to not wash their cars or water their lawns until further notice. The request comes during one of the hottest months of the year, when water usage is high, Garcia said.

The company serves about 1,500 residents.

Copper has long been a target of those desperate for quick cash. Many thieves are fueled by methamphetamine, authorities said, stripping building sites and digging up buried phone cables.

Thefts have skyrocketed nationwide during the last year as demand and the price of the metal remain high. As of Thursday, copper was selling for $3.39 a pound.

Plentiful construction sites in the Inland Empire have helped fuel a regional crime wave, authorities said. But thieves don't limit themselves to building sites.

School air-conditioning units have been targeted, and telephone poles have been cut down with chain saws and the wire stolen.

In some cases, the thefts cause serious public safety problems. Hospitals are affected when phone lines go down, and 911 calls can't be made.

Police say thieves burn off the insulation and take the metal to recycling plants, which pay cash. Most of the metal is shipped to recyclers in Los Angeles, and within 24 hours, authorities say, it's headed to China, which needs the copper to wire its fast-growing economy.

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sara.lin@latimes.com

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