California Puts Spotlight on Water Theft

It’s amazingly easy to steal water from a California stream. Even in this epic drought, the state has no way of monitoring exactly who is tapping into its freshwater supplies and how much they take. And those who do get caught taking water they have no right to often are allowed to keep taking it for years just by promising to obtain a permit. …

Water theft can take many forms. An illegal marijuana grower might lay pipe in a mountain stream to irrigate his illicit crop. A farmer with a valid water permit might take more than his permit allows to expand his crop or protect it from drought. A homeowner may decide to build a pond for swimming and divert the closest creek to fill it without getting a permit from the state.

How common is this kind of water theft? No one can be sure, because the state has no way to measure and monitor total flows and diversions in every stream, nor enough water cops to inspect even the diversions it knows about. But anecdotal reports suggest it is common. …

On March 1, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law that implements some […] recommendations during “critical drought” years like the present one.

The new law allows the board to order emergency curtailments on streams that risk running out of water. It also allows the board to skip some steps in the enforcement process, and jump straight to the cease-and-desist and penalty phases if the board believes a diverter is violating a curtailment order.

Finally, it doubles penalties for an illegal diversion to $1,000 per day, and adds a $2,500 per acre-foot penalty. Violating a cease-and-desist order gets even more painful, with penalties jumping from $1,000 to $10,000 per day.

These changes apply only during the present drought, not in other climatic conditions.


Article by: Matt Weiser

Published by: The Sacramento Bee
Published on: March 23 2014