Copper thieves stealing more than just metal
Water loss a side effect of thefts

COVINGTON - Copper thieves cost the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority an estimated 800,000 gallons of water this past week by cutting copper pipes in two subdivisions under development that were fed by main water lines.

Thieves targeted Iris Brook subdivision on Access Road near the Rockdale County line Sunday night, according to Water Authority Inspector Del Sumner.

Based on the amount of water collected in two detention ponds on the site, Sumner estimated about 500,000 gallons of water was lost, but he said that amount could be conservative.

"A lot of water ran out through the woods," he said, adding that the roadway running through the subdivision was damaged.

About a week earlier, a similar occurrence took place at Mill Creek subdivision on Crowell Road.

Deputies with the Newton County Sheriff's Office were called to the property Feb. 6 by developer Ruben Morgan, who discovered the copper piping had been cut, and the resulting free-flowing water had washed out several of his lots and deposited silt in the roadways.

Scott Emmons, chief engineer with the authority, estimated about 300,000 gallons of water was lost.

"That's drinking water we need going right into the ground," he said.

Morgan estimated he suffered $5,000 to $8,000 in damages.

"This ain't the first one. They're doing all new subdivisions like that all over the county," he said.

Authority Executive Director Mike Hopkins said water loss due to copper thefts is becoming a common problem.

It's "standard procedure" for thieves to come in after dark and take what they want, he said. But they're also taking a valuable resource that's desperately needed right now.

"With the situation we're in now, we really don't want to lose water, even though we've recovered our reservoir," he said. "We don't want to have people discharging water. If we catch anyone doing it to any of our systems, we will prosecute these people."

In addition to the developers whose projects are impacted, rate payers pay the price for these losses, he said.

"If anybody sees anything out of the ordinary, please don't hesitate to call somebody and report it. We don't want anybody accessing our water system because of Homeland Security. I know the developer does not want to go back and reinstall services, and it's really costing the rate payers, too," he said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.