With unprecedented droughts and water shortages, huge amounts of water are mysteriously disappearing. So much has disappeared from California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that with not enough fresh water left to keep the salty bay water from backing up into the Delta, a state investigation was launched.
In the most famous celebrity case, in July 2015, Tom Selleck, Magnum P.I., and his wife wife, Jillie Mack, were accused by the Calleguas Municipal Water District in Ventura County of taking over a dozen tanker truckloads from a hydrant to his Westlake Village 60-acre avocado ranch in the Hidden Valley Municipal Water District. The district spent $21,685.55 on a private investigator who documented the alleged thefts dating back two years and at last reporting Selleck had reached a tentative confidential settlement.
In the previous month, a nudist colony made headlines. Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office alleged in June 2015 that Glyn Stout and his wife Lori Kay Stout, owners of the Lupin Lodge clothing-optional resort, piped water from a nearby creek despite numerous warnings to stop. The “unauthorized water diversions” were in part to fill the nudist camp’s swimming pool. They are accused of trespassing on land managed by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, wildlife habitat protectors, which had photos of workers in activities like stringing a hose about half a mile upstream to a waterfall. Midpeninsula accused them of stealing about 6,000 gallons of creek water per day for more than seven weeks and robbing wildlife of desperately needed water. Rangers ripped out a pipeline funneling water to the resort, and with convictions, a sentence of up to three years in county jail is possible
Water has become a black market item in several areas:
- A Mendocino County deputy sheriff apprehended a water tank truck by following water droplets up a dirt road. The driver confessed he had taken it from a canal with plans of auctioning it off.
- The city of Lemoore, CA had at least four fire hydrants tampered with by people stealing water in the middle of the night. In one case, the perpetrator left the hose attached to the hydrant.
- A Bay Area suburb of San Ramon construction crew stole 700 gallons through hoses hooked up to a fire hydrant.
- Central Valley homeowners were fined $1,500 for siphoning water from a canal.
- In North San Juan, CA, thieves hooked up a truck to a fire department valve and stole thousands of gallons of water.
- Authorities raided a marijuana growing operation in central California to stop alleged illegal siphoning water from streams that supply an American Indian tribe.
- In the San Joaquin Valley where wells have gone dry and water prices skyrocketed, thieves are targeting rural farms removing water hoses, copper wiring and water pumps. The county District Attorney launched a task force with a phone number where victims and report water crimes, including illegal well drilling 24-7.
On the West Gallatin River near Bozeman, Montana, widespread illegal water use is hurting farmers downstream who depend on irrigation water and own water rights. The rights limiting the amount legal rights holders can draw have been sharply reduced due to thefts and drought. Officials now scout the river for violators and the District Court’s chief water commissioner was authorized to investigate along the river door to door handing out water rights information sheets.
Many people believe they have rights to water, especially if it flows over their land. According to the National Drinking Water Clearing-house (NDWC), “western water rights are based on Prior Appropriation, which generally operates on the ‘first in time, first in right’ principle. The first or prior user’s rights are superior to later-arising uses, regardless of scarcity or social benefits. Users typically acquire rights from the state to withdraw and consume water, and even in times of drought, may continue to do so at the expense of subsequent users.”