Water Theft Climbs in Drought-Stricken California

The exceptional drought in California is driving up water prices and water theft, turning the West Coast into the Old West!

water theft in california

With more than 60 percent of California experiencing what’s being called “exceptional” drought, it might not surprise you to learn that people and companies have responded to these desperate times with desperate measures: by stealing water from their neighbors.

Despite the fact that water is a basic human need, it is still- for better or worse- a commodity that people pay for, and water theft comes with a real cost to many that’s led to the “haves” calling for stricter penalties and harsher sentences for “have nots” who take water from outdoor hoses and spigots without permission. Some reports even indicate that a “water black market” has sprung up in the poorest neighborhoods of California, which should tell you something about the difference between the rich and poor in the Los Angeles basin, if nothing else.

In addition to private water theft, the Fresno Bee recently published an article that talked about how easy it is to steal water from California’s streams and rivers, stating that “the state (of California) has no way of monitoring exactly who is tapping into its freshwater supplies, and how much they take.”

The state has provisions in place to help it police its water use- including the need to obtain “water rights” permits before tapping into fresh water supplies. Still, that hasn’t deterred many people from abiding by those laws. “Frankly, under existing conditions, for a lot of people it’s just cheaper to violate and pay the penalty than it is to comply,” explains Andy Sawyer, assistant chief counsel at the California State water board.

Sawyer’s comments frame the need for stiffer penalties well enough, and Gov. Jerry Brown has, just this year, doubled penalties for an illegal diversion to $1000 per day, with penalties jumping from $1000 to $10,000 per day for repeat offenders. Still, that was back in March, and the situation in California is just getting worse and worse.

As the situation- and the prices of water!- gets worse, too, the “criminals” are getting more clever. Back in August, a sheriff’s deputy in Mendocino followed a trail of water up a dirt road, where he discovered a truck outfitted with a water tank, just like Uncle Jesse’s old moonshiner truck from the Dukes of Hazzard. The driver had siphoned water from a nearby canal and planned to sell it to the highest bidder, according to the National Journal.

For those of you paying attention, this is exactly how NASCAR started- so, you know, maybe after the SHTF in a big way over in California and the dust settles elsewhere, we’ll have a new generation of go-fast bootleggers running some kind of water-powered racing series. Silver linings, and all that.

In the meantime, you can check out this article about a company that was started specifically to deal with the issue of water security, and- if you live in California- maybe pick up one or two of these and store what water you can, you know?


Sources | Images: the Fresno Bee, National Journal, via Inhabitat.

Written by Jo BorrΓ‘s

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