SATURDAY SHORTS: Water districts crack down on water stealers

June 7, 2013 

We're finally coming to realize the value of water in our dry state.

And because water is so valuable, it is being bought, sold, fought over — and, occasionally, stolen.

This past week, the Turlock Irrigation District board quadrupled the fine for farmers who are caught stealing water. The board also voted to beef up security along its canals and create a tip line so people can anonymously report the unauthorized use of irrigation water.

The district has not seen an outbreak of water thefts. There have only been 12 confirmed cases since the TID last updated its policy in 1994. But there have been a couple of reports of irrigators opening their gates and getting irrigation water on days for which they are not scheduled. That amounts to unauthorized use, aka stealing.

The board raised the fine for such a violation from $250 to $1,000, plus three times the highest water rate at the time of the unauthorized use. The resolution also stipulates unauthorized use of water will be charged against the offending parcel's available water for the irrigation season, and the district can withhold irrigation water from all parcels owned or rented by the offender.

After a second offense, the farmer could lose water for the rest of the irrigation season.

A hot line — (209) 883-3440 — will be available starting Tuesday to allow people to make anonymous reports of unauthorized use. The district promises to follow up with thorough investigations.

Traditionally, irrigation districts have relied largely on the honor system. A farmer calls in and requests water for a specific period. Those requests are logged and go out to the water distribution operations — formerly known as ditch tenders — who then can confirm that the farmer is getting his or her water. But an unscrupulous customer could, depending on where they are located in the canal system, open the gate without making the request.

The Modesto Irrigation District does not have a specific fine for stealing water, but it does have a policy that states an irrigator using water without permission is subject to criminal prosecution and civil liability and-or forfeiting the right to water during the next cycle.

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While we are on the subject of irrigation canals, please remember that they are not for swimming. It is unsafe to swim in the canals, no matter your age and swimming ability and no matter how inviting that cold water seems on a weekend like this.

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Congratulations to Cal Campbell, who handily won the special Riverbank City Council election. We could point out that the retired educator could have joined the council months ago had two council members agreed to his appointment after he came in third in the November election. But they didn't and wouldn't. Campbell will be sworn in Monday night and there is no doubt now that he's the preferred candidate.

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