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The theft of scarce water in California is devastating some communities

As an extreme drought grips California, making water increasingly scarce, thieves are making off with billions of gallons of the precious resource.

Illegal marijuana growing just before it was cut and carted away by authorities. The field was later burned to remove any remaining plants. Source - Emeraldeye, Public Domain
Illegal marijuana growing just before it was cut and carted away by authorities. The field was later burned to remove any remaining plants. Source - Emeraldeye, Public Domain

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.

According to The Guardian, in the past eight years, over 12 billion gallons of water have been stolen in California, based on data from state officials, and the intensifying drought has driven the thefts to record levels as reservoirs dry up.

Forest Service personnel, joined by representatives of six federal and civilian partners, cleaned more than 6,000 lbs of trash and 7,000 lbs of irrigation pipes from an illegal marijuana cultivation site on the Lassen National Forest, Oct. 17-20, 2016. Source – Pacific Southwest Region 5, CC SA 2.9

Stealing water with any means available

CTV News Canada reports that thieves are breaking into secure water stations, drilling into water lines, tapping into fire hydrants, and using violence and threats against farmers, all while making off with truckloads of water.

“The amount of water that is being stolen to water those (marijuana) plants has a huge impact on our local aquifers,” said Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue.

Siskiyou County is a rural county in the northernmost part of the state, and most families rely on well water. LaRue says his county is one of the hardest hit by thieves.

Water theft can also affect drinking water sources. Last spring, 300 homes had their water supply threatened when water valves were improperly shut off, according to the Desert Sun newspaper that covers the Palm Springs and Coachella Valley area southeast of Los Angeles.

The Desert Sun has also reported that people in water trucks have been backing up to rivers and lakes and pumping free water, not just for their own use but to sell on an underground market.

According to a recent post by the Brookings Institution, stealing water has also been an issue outside of California, particularly in connection to cannabis cultivation in Oregon and Colorado.

Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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