Stealing water from your neighbor has become more and more common in California as the state’s drought intensifies to record levels.
The National Journal reports that as Californians scramble for much needed water supplies, many fill their tanks from a bustling black market of stolen water. State water officials and law enforcement are working together to apprehend the water thieves.
Madden, a veterinarian in Los Gatos, noticed that her water tanks were diminishing at an alarming rate, but she couldn’t find any leaks. She later discovered that thieves stole her water. “I just couldn’t believe it,” Madden said. “You never imagine anyone would do something like that but there it was, vanishing right before our eyes.”
Mendocino County has made water thievery a priority and set up a water-theft hotline. Moreover, special patrols are set up to ferret out any suspicious activity. Meanwhile, according to the Contra Costa Times, the Contra Costa Water District plans on jacking up water stealing fines from $25 to $250 to discourage stealing from fire hydrants late at night. Fines could reach as high as $500 for repeat offenders.
Law enforcement officials admit that the law is tough to enforce. “This is something that’s very hard to pin down. If you don’t catch someone in the act, how do you prove they did it?” Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman explained.
For most counties stealing water is a misdemeanor, but attitudes are changing as the droughts harsh realities become more evident. County Supervisor Carre Brown told the Journal that she considers the current fees a “slap on the wrist… To me this is like looting during a disaster. It should be a felony.”
Her point is a good one when you consider that thousands of gallons of water were stolen from a fire station in North San Juan, located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Journal reported that the thieves stole the water this summer during the height of wildfire season. “We were just absolutely stunned,” exclaimed Boyd Johnson, a battalion chief with the North San Juan fire department. “Fires are on everyone’s mind during the summer so to see this happen, I think it really scared people.”