TEHACHAPI, Calif. - The California drought has put more awareness on farmers dealing with water theft in Kern County.
As California residents and businesses face the new reality of dwindling reservoirs and water restrictions, police in one California County are getting serious about water thieves, especially those who need the precious resource to feed illegal marijuana growing operations.
The Mendocino County Sheriff department said that water thieves could be making of with up to five million gallons of water a day to irrigate thirsty pot plants.
It's a problem that has even made its way to Kern County.
A local man was sentenced earlier this week for growing pot plants northeast of Bakersfield. Agents seized 920 pot plants from Milano Ranch on Breckenridge Road just east of Comanche Drive.
They said they found Jorge Torres along with the plants, a loaded assault rifle and 3 pounds of processed marijuana that was ready for sale. Not only was Torres growing the pot plants on the farm, he was also stealing their water. He tapped into their irrigation system using PVC piping to irrigate the plants.
The Kern County Farm Bureau says that water theft has not been a huge problem in the county, but could present negative impacts if and when it does.
In Northern California growers have been known to drill illegal wells, secretly tap into neighboring water tanks, and even go so far as to pump water directly from local streams and irrigation canals into storage containers.
Agencies are stepping up enforcement as the high season of marijuana cultivation approaches. Anyone caught stealing water will be charged with grand theft of Natural Resources.
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