Six Modesto Irrigation District customers stand accused – in a very public way – of stealing water in this drought season.
They are the first in MID history to be slapped with fines, presumed at $1,500 each, and won’t get any more canal water this year.
Five are neighbors who are accused of sucking water with “seven illegal siphon pipes and a submersible pump” from an Empire canal south of Garst Road, according to online information posted for all to see on the district’s website. A link says the customers are Yonan George, the Ron Holmes Family Trust, Chet and Carole Hammonds, David Switzer, and Casey and Diane Johnson.
They can appeal to the MID board, whose meeting agenda Tuesday morning includes a detailed presentation on unauthorized use of water. It’s expected to feature photographs of MID crews destroying pipes that appear to have been installed under several inches of soil, leading under a dirt road from the canal to private property.
Also cited is customer Penelope Miller, who is accused of taking water west of Modesto despite having exhausted her fair share for the season. Her access pipe was plugged and she also was fined, a report says.
The report does not say how much water each customer is accused of swiping.
“MID finds sufficient cause to terminate the delivery of MID water to applicable lands, effective immediately,” the web page says. “We are actively patrolling our facilities and we will continue to take aggressive action to prevent water theft.”
The tone is very different from four weeks ago, when a man complained at a board meeting about the district’s lack of action to curb water theft. Board member Jake Wenger said he had responded to a middle-of-the-night complaint, but General Manager Roger VanHoy said the district was not able to prove the allegation.
Sensitive to water scarcity this year, the board months ago announced that it would adopt strict anti-theft rules. In February, VanHoy suggested setting fines for first offenses at $300, but board members said that wasn’t enough and upped it to $1,500. No one had been caught as of the board’s July 22 meeting.
Nine days later, ditchtenders on patrol spotted the Empire siphon pipes, the web page says.