Thieves Turn to Stealing Water During California Drought

Water Guns (John Sciulli / Getty)
John Sciulli / Getty

Thieves traditionally like to steal valuable items or resources. In the midst of California’s record drought, they’ve turned their attention to the state’s most precious resource of all: water.

A group of water thieves recently broke open the spigot at a popular shopping center in Milpitas, hauling away hundreds of gallons of water in portable containers, according to local CBS affiliate KPIX5.

The group of three or four thieves allegedly struck in the middle of the night, when no one was around at the shopping center on Barber Lane. The theft was discovered after the property owner noticed a spike in the water bill and told the business owners.

But water theft hasn’t been limited to Milpitas. In April, large amounts of water began disappearing from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, California’s main water hub and a crucial source of water for agriculture. A state investigation of the missing water is ongoing.

Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported that water thieves in San Ramon had nicked 700 gallons from a fire hydrant. Another several hundred gallons were stolen after thieves in North San Juan hooked up a hose to a fire department tank.

Water districts like the East Bay Municipal Utilities District and the Contra Costa Water District have stepped up penalties for water thieves in an effort to deter them. CCWD spokesperson Jennifer Allen told that the most common form of water theft is people filling containers with water from local fire hydrants.

“I believe during drought times people’s sensitivities are certainly raised to any instances of water theft going on and so probably that’s where we’ve been contacted,” Allen told the outlet. “We would assume that more people are feeling the need to report out anything they’ve witnessed of somebody stealing water from a hydrant of from a neighbor.”

As mandatory water cutbacks go into effect this month across the state, police are warning businesses and residents to lock up their water source, or risk being hit by newly emboldened water criminals.

“There are several commercial water locks available at your local hardware store,” police recently warned residents through the Milpitas Post. “The use of these locks may deter a would-be thief from stealing your water and affecting your wallet with higher utility bills.”