SANTA BABARA, Calif. - There's a new concern in drought dry Santa Barbara - water thieves. Police and the Public Works Department say they will be on the lookout for anyone taking water from a variety of sites that are off limits.
That includes fire hydrants, wells, construction sites and ponds.
No arrests have been made but calls have come in from citizens who have seen suspicious activity.
The city has also set up a special phone hot line and email link for anyone who sees a water waster or a water thief.
You can access that link at:http://www.santabarbaraca.gov/gov/depts/pw/resources/conservation/reportwater/default.asp
Some water thefts might occur, for example, in an area where water use from wells or hydrants with special meters has been approved. But not all the vehicles pulling up are authorized to access the water source. That's been a concern with the water officials who are working in a joint effort with police.
"With our current drought situation they have reported to us many more instances where the thefts may be of a larger scale and an obvious intent to defraud the citizens of Santa Barbara with regard to their water resources," said Santa Barbara Police Sgt. Riley Harwood.
Already many calls and tips have come in from observant residents.
"We only have a small group of staff to work on this so we really do need the public's assistance. We all have to chip in and do it together. In some of the cases we are finding out it wasn't unlawful use," said Interim Water Resources Manager Joshua Haggmark.
NewsChannel 3 showed Haggmark some photos of power spraying and he said if the water is collected and not left in the gutter that is generally approved. Power spraying with high pressure is efficient and often used for specific projects. It can also be the best method of preparing a property for painting or used for certain health and sanitation requirements.
Some of the spraying, however, was taking place on lounge chairs from a hotel with water going down the sidewalk and into the street. The city says that's not allowed without other steps to prevent the runoff.