As California Drought Intensifies, So Does Water Theft

An issue only getting worse with time

Water theft is reportedly on the rise.
Shridhar Vashistha/Unsplash

The theft of water, on a large scale, has informed more crime narratives than you might expect. Think of the film Chinatown, or the near-future thriller The Water Knife — both unsettling examples (albeit fictional) of how greed surrounding an essential part of life can be deadly. As climate change increases and water resources dry up, water will become more and more in demand — and it’s out of this demand that illegal markets can arise.

A new article in The Guardian illustrates this in stark terms. As drought ravages parts of the western United States, farmers are discovering that their water supplies are running lower than expected — and trying to determine who the culprit or culprits might be. The amounts in question are not small: 12 billion gallons over the last eight years, with the rate of stolen water increasing.

As Jewel Wicker reports, state officials believe that illegal marijuana farmers are responsible for some of the recent thefts. The Guardian cites reporting by The Desert Sun, who noted the use of water trucks to extract water from rivers and lakes — some of it for personal use, and some of it for sale.

This practice brings a host of other issues into focus, from whether water can be viewed as a source of profit to how different communities are affected by the removal of water from the area. In the year so far, 125 residents of California reported thefts of water — twice as many as a decade before. And with climate change being what it is, it’s hard to see this number dropping any time soon.

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