California has been in the midst of a very severe drought for quite some time due to climate change. The drought now impacts the entire state and threatens to create long-term impacts as hot and dry conditions are sustained, creating a vicious cycle that is becoming grader to break. This has made water an extremely precious resource, leading to thieves tapping into fire hydrants, rivers, family homes, and farms to steal gallons of water, often for the illegal cultivation of marijuana crops. While water theft is a long-running problem, thefts have been increased to record levels as the intensifying drought dries up reservoirs. More than 12 billion gallons of water have been stolen across the state, devastating communities: legitimate farming operations, drinking water sources, Native American tribes, and small communities have been impacted.
Water thieves obtain water through various means: breaking into secure water stations, drilling into water lines, tapping into fire hydrants, and threatening and using violence against farmers. The severity of the issue has grown to the point that fire hydrants have locks placed on them, or removed altogether, in order to prevent the further theft of water. Local aquifers have been hard hit in many rural areas, in which residents rely on well water.
Furthermore, water systems have crashed as a result of the increasing amount of stolen water. After water trucks were used to illegally tap fire hydrants and water mains, water pressures dropped so low that the system failed in the Antelope Valley in Southern California. This occurrence was not alone; Los Angeles County has seen 18 main water breaks, which forced the waterworks department to spend a half-million dollars to respond.
California is entering the hottest and driest period of the year, forcing water usage to be restricted. Thefts are threatening to make the water scarcity worse. Officials are combatting the thieves to the best of their abilities. Fire hydrants have been removed, water sources secured, and greater enforcement has been implemented. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife MET team has also taken action as the diversion of water from natural streams threatens native fish and wildlife that rely on the water for survival during the hot months. 900 felony arrests of cannabis growers and the removal of 400 miles of pipes diverting water to man-made dams have been done.