AND NO, THE DROUGHT IS NOT CAUSED BY ‘CLIMATE CHANGE’ – Throughout history, California has experienced many droughts, such as 1841, 1864, 1924, 1928–1935, 1947–1950, 1959–1960, 1976–1977, 1986–1992…
As an extreme drought grips California, making water increasingly scarce, thieves are making off with billions of gallons of the precious resource, tapping into fire hydrants, rivers, and even small family homes and farms.
State and local officials say water theft is a long running-issue, but the intensifying drought has driven the thefts to record levels as reservoirs dry up and bandits make off with stolen water, often to cultivate the growth of illegal marijuana crops.
“Water stealing has never been more severe,” said John Nores, former head of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Marijuana Enforcement Team. The agency has been fighting the thefts for years, usually in rural areas of the parched state, that have been “devastating” communities, he said.
More than 12 billion gallons of water are estimated to have been stolen across the state since 2013, impacting legitimate farming operations, drinking water sources, Native American tribes and small communities, Nores said.
How thieves are getting their hands on water
Officials say the thieves are getting their hands on water by breaking into secure water stations, drilling into water lines, tapping into fire hydrants and using violence and threats against farmers, making off with truckloads of water for their crops under cover of darkness.
The issue has become so severe that some communities have been forced to place locks on fire hydrants or remove them altogether.
“The amount of water that is being stolen to water those (marijuana) plants has a huge impact on our local aquifers,” Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue told CNN. His rural county in the northernmost part of the state is one of the hardest hit by thieves, where many residents rely on well water.
Yvonne West, director of the State Water Resources Control Board’s Office of Enforcement, told CNN that the board has recently received an “uptick in complaints” of stolen water. It is a “local problem” in smaller communities, West said.
In Southern California, about 300 residents in the Antelope Valley saw their water system crash last year after thieves used water trucks to tap fire hydrants and water mains illegally. Water pressure in the area north of Los Angeles dropped so low at one point, it caused “the system to fail,” said Anish Saraiya, public works deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.