(CNN)– As extreme drought grips California, making water increasingly scarce, thieves are snatching billions of liters of the precious resource, extracting from fire hydrants, rivers and even small family homes. and farms.State and local authorities say water theft is a long-standing problem, but the intensification of the drought has seen thefts reach record levels as reservoirs dry up and thieves appropriate stolen water. often to grow illegal crops of marijuana.
“Water theft has never been this serious,” said John Nores, head of the Marijuana Law Enforcement (MET) team at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The agency has been fighting these thefts for years, usually in rural areas of the parched state, which have been “devastating” for communities, he said.
An estimated 45 billion gallons of water have been stolen statewide since 2013, affecting legal agricultural operations, drinking water sources, Native American tribes and small communities, Nores said.
How thieves are getting the water
Authorities claim that thieves seize water by breaking into secure water stations, drilling water pipes, tapping firefighters’ water intakes, and using violence and threats against farmers, managing to take truckloads of water to their crops overnight.
The problem has become so serious that some communities have had to put locks on the hydrants or remove them entirely.
“The amount of water that is stolen to irrigate these (marijuana) plants has a huge impact on our local aquifers,” Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue told CNN. Its rural county in the northernmost part of the state is one of the hardest hit by thieves, where many residents rely on well water.
Yvonne West, director of the Compliance Office for the State Water Resources Control Board, told CNN that the board has recently received an “increase in reports” of stolen water. It is a “local problem” in smaller communities, West said.
In Southern California, about 300 Antelope Valley residents saw their water system collapse last year after thieves used tanker trucks to illegally tap fire hydrants and mains. Water pressure in the North Los Angeles area dropped so low at one point that it caused “the system to fail,” said Anish Saraiya, public works deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
The county has suffered as many as 18 water pipe breaks, forcing the waterworks department to spend about half a million dollars to respond to the incidents, Saraiya said.
“It is a growing problem,” Saraiya told CNN.
Thefts come as California enters a warmer period
As California enters its hottest and driest time of year, forcing city councils to increasingly restrict water use, thefts threaten to further exacerbate an adverse situation.
“As the state enters another possible drought emergency, we have to ensure that this new activity does not further exacerbate water shortages,” Barger said in a statement to CNN.
Authorities say they are doing everything they can to combat the problem by removing hydrant intakes, securing key water sources and implementing stronger law enforcement to prevent potential thieves from taking the water.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife MET has made more than 900 arrests of illegal cannabis growers and removed more than 400 miles of pipes that diverted water from natural streams to man-made dams, Nores said.
These diversions threaten indigenous fish and wildlife that depend on water to survive during the hot summer months.
As authorities take action to curb thieves, the drought, which now covers every corner of the state, threatens to create long-term impacts as climate change exacerbates hot and dry conditions, creating a vicious cycle that spreads. becomes harder to break.
“All of California has to get used to this concept of water scarcity,” West said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism