Theft is the reason the water loss has grown so large at Pine Cove Water District. After investing hundreds of staff hours and months of searching for pipeline leaks, General Manager Jerry Holldber reported that he and staff finally discovered that someone had tapped into a water hydrant.
With the help of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, they determined that the water was being pilfered to nourish an illegal marijuana grove deep in the forest near Pine Cove. According to board President Robert Hewitt, the investigation is still underway.
Holldber estimated that, at a minimum, 2.3 million gallons of water has been stolen from the district. The value of this water is more than $17,000. In Holldber’s opinion, it is likely the water theft began during the summer months of 2016.
Besides the cost of the stolen water, Holldber estimated that other costs, such as staff time searching for leaks and detection equipment, have cost another $42,000.
“It was very professional and high-end work to tap into our lines,” Holldber said. “In June and July, we checked lines and hydrants. Half of our staff time was trying to find the leaks. It was a lot of time wasted.”
The water theft was discovered in July when a customer “… notified the district that a fire hydrant out on the dirt road had a wet spot,” Holldber reported. Staff checked the hydrant and found it had been turned so it was shut off.
The next day, the district received another call about the same hydrant leaking. Further investigation discovered that it had been turned back on overnight.
“It was obvious that someone was messing with the district’s hydrant,” Holldber said. “Because of the amount of water flowing, we knew someone was stealing our water.”
The next day he reported the theft and situation to the Sheriff’’s Department.
This water theft poses another problem for the district. PCWD has several water hydrants on the periphery of the district. These are available to the U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire in case of fires in the forest near Pine Cove.
Locking them would be a hindrance for the fire departments in case of an emergency. Holldber is investigating options for protecting the hydrants while ensuring access in case of fire emergencies.
Fortunately, the wet winter meant the water theft did not create an emergency for PCWD customers, Holldber noted. “Last year, 20 or 30 or 40 gallons per minute [of use] would have affected our well levels.”