California’s drought and wildfires have put water at a premium, which has made water theft an even more urgent problem. Frequently, water thieves are illegal marijuana growers tapping into fire hydrants and drilling unauthorized wells depleting the water supply for nearby residents.
Federal, state, and local law enforcement recently disrupted hundreds of allegedly illegal marijuana cultivations in an Antelope Valley sting operation.
“Most Californians would be shocked and disappointed at the amount of water these unlicensed, illegal grows are using, especially as California suffers from a drought,” Curt Fallin, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s associate special agent in charge, said.
Authorities arrested 131 people, seized 65 vehicles –including two water trucks– recovered $28,000, 33,480 pounds of marijuana, and dozens of firearms. Nineteen people were charged with water theft.
“By our calculation, the illegal grows in Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties require an astounding 5.4 million gallons of water a day, every day,” Fallin said.
Much of the western half of the United States is in the midst of a severe drought that includes the Pacific Northwest, much of the Intermountain West, and the Northern Plains. It is especially severe in California and the Southwest.