News Feature | October 18, 2018

When Water Scarcity Leads To Violent Crime

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

As pressure on water resources grows, there is at least one “water cop” trying to maintain order.

Meet Dave Huhn, a sheriff's deputy for Montezuma County, CO. NPR provided a close-up on his water-based gig in a recent report.

“Huhn specializes in the complex world of water law. His job has become more important in this region after a series of hot, dry summers have made farmers more desperate for water, and more willing to steal it or go to battle over it,” the report continued.

Huhn can attest to the fact that water crime sometimes gets aggressive.

“One Sunday morning several years ago, Huhn got a phone call. The woman on the other end was frantic, screaming as she watched her 82-year-old husband from the window. Their 86-year-old neighbor was beating him with a shovel,” the report stated.

They were arguing over whether one of them had taken too much water from the irrigation ditch that they shared.

As the water enforcer in the sheriff’s department, Huhn gets up to 100 calls per month, a testament to “the conflict chronic aridity creates.”

There are some misperceptions about water crime, according to Huhn.

“Water law enforcement varies across the western U.S. Water disputes — both violent and nonviolent — will sometimes find their way to the attention of local law enforcement, but due to an ignorance of what the law actually says, many deputies will simply tell the parties to hammer out their differences in state water court. Huhn says the common refrain is that conflict over water is a civil matter, and that no criminal statutes have been broken,” NPR reported.

“But, Huhn says, that's often incorrect. Local law enforcement can issue citations for water violations and can police how people use and abuse the state's scarce natural resource,” it continued.

During the drought in California, water theft became common, according to, and water theft accusations among farmers were also frequent, the Associated Press reported.