News Feature | June 2, 2014

Wild West: Thieves Target California Water Supply

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


The California drought has given rise to an unusual sort of crime: water theft. 

"It's amazingly easy to steal water from a California stream. Even in this epic drought, the state has no way of monitoring exactly who is tapping into its freshwater supplies and how much they take," the Fresno Bee reported

Water theft comes in many shapes and sizes. For instance, a farmer with a valid water permit may take more water than he is allowed. Or, "a homeowner may decide to build a pond for swimming and divert the closest creek to fill it without getting a permit from the state," the report said. 

Thieves target water that has already been treated, as well. Back in September, criminals made off with thousands of gallons of water from an elementary school. Bridgeville Elementary School closed for a day after "staff discovered up to 20,000 gallons of water had been stolen from an onsite water tank during the Labor Day weekend," the Times Standard reported

Law enforcement is trying to crack down on water crime. "As California residents and businesses face the new reality of dwindling reservoirs and water restrictions, police in California's Mendocino County are getting serious about water thieves," KERO reported

Lake authorities are also on high alert for crime. "During the 2009-10 drought, [they] caught thieves pumping water from Lake Mendocino into trucks. The reservoir is currently about 37 percent full," the Associated Press reported, citing county officials.

Carre Brown, a Mendocino County supervisor, said all deputies are on watch. "Water theft is a big concern, so we're doing public announcements and have a line to call for reports to the sheriff's department," Brown said in the report. 

But even when the perps get caught, it does not always stop this kind of crime. 

"Those who do get caught taking water they have no right to often are allowed to keep taking it for years just by promising to obtain a permit," the Bee report said. "Nearly 30,000 entities in the state hold valid water diversion permits, including individual property owners, farmers, and water utilities."

Image credit: "Handcuffs," © 2012 .v1ctor Casale., used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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