Combating Water theft on Ranches and Farms

Written By: John Blenker
Published: April 29, 2014


As long as I can remember water usage and theft of water has been an area of grave concern for California. Now, the current drought has reached critical levels and is impacting more places than ever in the history of our state. As a patrol Deputy responsible for patrolling hundreds of square miles of rural lands I have spoken with many ranchers experiencing theft of water from their springs and wells and worrying about how to stop this loss.

Experience shows that the single most important strategy in preventing theft of water is to be vigilant and watch constantly for signs of covert usage. Over the past several years I have received calls from ranchers who located evidence of unknown persons placing a hidden “T” on water irrigation lines that feed vineyards and diverting the flow to illegal marijuana gardens. If you don’t check your water lines regularly you may never know this is happening.

Inspect your water lines frequently; look for t’s and joints in illogical places. These may indicate that someone is tapping into your water source.  Thieves have become experts in hiding their tracks. They bury piping and camouflage it to prevent discovery. If you see suspicious installation in an illogical place check it out and follow any unidentified water lines to their origin.

Look for suspicious vehicles that may be parked on rural roads at various times of the day or night. Watch for tampering of any spring that provides water to your residence or farm. You might want to invest in strategically located trail cameras to document any human traffic in these areas. These electronic guardians can monitor your lands 24/7.
Water and fuel are valuable to thieves. You might consider placing sturdy locks on large storage tanks to make illegal access more difficult. Locks are also available for household spigots. These relatively simple items can help:

  • Prevent unauthorized opening of your water valves
  • Eliminate unauthorized water usage
  • Prevent hose bib leakage
  • Provide substantial savings to ever increasing water bills

As always take the steps necessary to secure your property:

  • Post “No Trespassing” signs
  • Watch for unauthorized activity on your property
  • Report suspicious activities to Law Enforcement
  • Form a Neighborhood/Farm watch program in your area
  • Utilize trail cameras to capture images of trespassers
  • Secure your lands so they are not inviting to water bandits

If you would like more information or have questions about tactics to prevent water theft please feel free to contact me or any of the other members of the Sonoma County Rural Crime Task force at 707-565-3940.

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