Harsher Penalties Await Irrigation Water Thieves

David Fransen

A new, no-nonsense set of penalties awaits growers who steal water from Turlock Irrigation District canals: thousands of dollars in fines, reduced water availability, and the potential of losing all access to TID water.

The Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors unanimously approved the harsher penalties Tuesday morning, updating a nearly 19-year-old set of regulations to better deter water theft.

“We put a little more teeth into the resolution, a little heftier fines,” TID Water Distribution Department Manager Mike Kavarian said. “Maybe customers will second-guess taking water when they're not supposed to.”

Water thieves now face a $1,000 fine, plus a $60 charge per acre-foot of unauthorized water use. Growers will be required to pay all fines before any water deliveries will resume to their parcels.

The unauthorized water use will also be charged against a parcel's available water for the irrigation season. Previously, thieves did not have their allotment reduced by a corresponding amount.

“This is all on the first offense,” Kavarian said.

Upon a second offense, all water deliveries could be withheld from all parcels owned or rented by the grower at the TID General Manager's discretion.

And should the situation get entirely out of hand, TID could weld shut irrigation valves so growers simply cannot steal any water, “If it gets to that point.”

“We hope it does not,” Kavarian said.

The new regulations are considerably harsher than the previous penalties, adopted in 1994. TID previously charged growers a $250 fine, plus three times the water rate, with no further penalty.

Along with increased penalties, increased patrols from TID's private security firm will be looking out for water thieves.

And growers, too, will be able to anonymously call in complaints. TID will then investigate all allegations to determine if reported usage is authorized.

“We're trying to put as many eyes out there as we can to deter people as much as we can,” Kavarian said.

The tip line, (209) 883-3440, will become active on June 11.

The new regulations come as growers are blowing through an already-increased 2013 allotment. According to Kavarian, 30 percent of parcels are above the first tier of water, while a handful are above the second tier.

As the past two water years have been critically dry, TID is looking to conserve water while meeting the needs of its growers. Reducing water theft should allow the district to offer larger allotments to all growers in the coming years.

Though TID Board of Directors Chairman Micheal Frantz believes “99.8 percent” of TID customers are honest people, he said it's the district's job to catch those few lawbreakers to ensure enough water remains for the others.

“I think we have an obligation to make sure that we protect the pool of water we have in place,” Frantz said. “We're asking all to conserve, we're asking all to make sacrifices.”

Growers will be notified of the changes via letter and e-mail in the coming days.

On Tuesday, TID Board of Directors is also:
• Heard regular weekly updates on electrical service, power generation, irrigation water availability, and the status of the irrigation season.
• Heard a monthly report on activities of the Electrical Engineering and Operations Administration.
• In closed session, discussed three cases of anticipated litigation.

Comments 1

  1. Crime says:

    It’s theft and it’s a crime. Arrest the water thieves.

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