Jim Bennett, the Houston Heights Association’s boulevard beautification chair, said that during the first 20 years of his tenure, they only lost a single sprinkler vacuum breaker each year either to frost or accidental breakage. But since June of this year, he said thieves have stolen 10 of the breakers, which are a backflow prevention device.
It was morning joggers along the Heights Boulevard esplanade who alerted the association of the theft as each one caused the individual sprinkler to flood the boulevard and necessitated either Bennett or the city to turn off the water.
After the third theft, Bennett called police to file a report but said there was not much to be done unless the perpetrators were caught in the act.
“I understand that since they are bronze, they could be sold for scrap,” he said.
Because of the frequency of incidents, the HHA decided that in addition to replacing the breakers, they also needed to protect against future theft.
Bennett and HHA property manager Greg Campbell have already installed three protective cages around the new vacuum breakers on the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Heights Boulevard. This was primarily so passersby could utilize the water fountains as the water has been cut off near the broken ones. But more are needed.
There are 18 vacuum breakers along the boulevard, two at Marmion Park and one at the Heights Fire Station. In addition to the cages, the vacuum breaker replacements need to be purchased. While Bennett said he and Campbell will do what they can, additional labor and materials will be needed.
In a recent e-mail, the HHA explained the association maintains the trees, gardens and jogging trail on Heights Boulevard.
“We typically earmark funds for repairs and maintenance along the boulevard, but we have experienced a significant drop in 2020 revenue due to the cancellation of our traditional fundraising events, few rentals of the Fire Station and lower-than-expected membership numbers – all due to the pandemic,” reads the e-mail. “We have begun repairing and protecting some of the vacuum breakers – and have been able to front the money needed for these initial costs, but to cover all these expenses, we will need to raise $14,000.”
In past years, Bennett said the number of breakers lost did not justify the cost of the cages, but it does now.
“Most people don’t know that we paid for installation of (the system) and have to maintain it,” he said. “(Houston) Public Works will cut the water off, but they won’t repair it.”
To get a jump on the thieves, the HHA has set a Nov. 15 deadline to raise the funds.
“We use the system to keep new trees growing for two or three years and for the flower gardens,” Bennett said. “We’re not watering the grass here.”
To donate, visit stores.houstonheightsstore.org/heights-boulevard-beautification-project.