Suspicions of bulk water theft in Southern Humboldt

Unsubstantiated reports of tanker-trucks stealing water from local fire hydrants have surfaced at the July board meetings of the Redway Community Services District and Myers Flat Mutual Water System. This year's dry conditions have led to increased demand but supplies have stagnated as several water districts throughout Southern Humboldt have suspended bulk water sales.

The possibility of theft was first acknowledged when two dozen angry residents of Myers Flat turned out to express concerns about low pressure and other problems allegedly caused by bulk sales to commercial water haulers. They asked their water board how sales had been monitored and were informed by board president Robert Perkins that all transactions had been conducted on the honor system.

Members of the public then asked if it was possible that water had been stolen, and Perkins conceded that it was. Without surveillance footage, however, Perkins could not be sure.

In Redway, suspicions arose after finding water seeping out of a hydrant that had not been completely turned off.

Ken Dean, RCSD's operations manager, said that they have received two reports from area residents about suspicious activity, but both of those trucks turned out to be hauling water for authorized use. The district monitors their average monthly water loss, but that information is primarily used for detecting leaks so it's hard to be certain.

"There is no proof that it's going on in Redway," Dean said. "It's a suspicion, but it hasn't been proven. We are just reminding people that it is illegal to take water from fire hydrants, and we don't typically sell water for any projects other than our own use."

Lt. Steve Knight, a public information officer with the Humboldt County sheriff's office, says the HCSO hasn't heard of any water theft.

Still, RCSD business manager Debra Evans believes she witnessed one unmarked tanker-truck illegally hauling water taken from within the Evergreen Business Park - near the district office. RCSD board president Michael McKaskle has asked for assistance from the public in identifying bulk water haulers that may be taking water without the district's authorization.

One solution might involve fitting fire hydrants with locking devices. Operations manager Ken Dean felt this might be cost prohibitive for Redway.

"It's quite expensive and each of the fire trucks would have to carry devices to unlock it," Dean says. "It costs more to prevent than to have it randomly occur."