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Did water thievery cause contamination?
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The contracting company that filled up a water truck Thursday from a Manteca fire hydrant without permission has told Public Works staff they were sorry and they will pay for the water. 

They also promised not to do it again.

Representatives of GHI Hedgecock Paving of Modesto told Public Works Director Mark Houghton that their water meter obtained for use on a fire hydrant at Manteca Veterinarian Hospital where they are erecting a new building “was malfunctioning.” Instead of going to the bother to fix or replace it, they made the decision to go to another fire hydrant.

However, instead of going to two fire hydrants you can see from the veterinarian clinic, they opted instead to drive the water truck down Powers Avenue and turn right on Yolo Street pass two other fire hydrants that were on corners where no vehicles were parked — so they could reach one where the street stubs at Cowell Street where traffic is at a minimum.

But this isn’t an all is well that ends well story.

One reader — Jason Graham — points out filling the water truck as the contracting firm did put residents in the vicinity of the fire hydrant in jeopardy.

That’s because the photo of the pilfering of water clearly shows there is no back-flow device attached to the hose. The back-flow device prevents any chemical or any contaminated fluid that the truck is holding in the tank from siphoning back into the water main supplying the hydrant as well as nearby homes.

The City of Manteca, by the way, is stringent about back-flow devices. They require them wherever older homes have dual systems — a domestic well for irrigation and city water for domestic use. They have to pass inspection by a certified tester once a year.

Graham, who is a licensed California water operator, worked for more than 17 years with the water district in Dublin where he imposed a $1,000 fine for anyone who hooked up to a fire hydrant without a back-flow device plus pay for the water stolen.

Manteca imposes a $20 fine but that’s only after they are given a stern warning on the first offense or more precisely the first time they are caught.

Two readers mentioned how in the past year they have come across water trucks connected to fire hydrants are away from any construction that clearly did not have either a meter or a back-flow device but was coupled directly to the hydrant.

Houghton said the city believes there are water thefts taking place by unscrupulous contractors but they can’t do anything unless they are caught in the act.

To that end, if you see a water truck hooked directly to a fire hydrant with no device between the hose coupling and the hydrant, whip out your smartphone, snap a photo, note the time and get any identifying information you can from the truck.

That are essentially stealing all Manteca residents at $100 per truckload of water not to mention taking precious water in the middle of a severe drought. And they also may be putting public health at risk to boot.

And while the city is looking at switching all contractors that need water trucks for construction work or dust control to recycled wastewater, they might want to consider upping the fine for those caught red-handed from $20 to a $1,000 and not give any warnings.

Or, better yet, they might want to put in place an ordinance red-tagging such contractors and refuse to issue them a permit to do work in Manteca for at a year after they are caught.

Just a thought.

And to underscore how serious people throughout California are viewing water use as the drought continues into its fourth year, the story about the water theft from Manteca’s fire hydrant made it on KCAL Channel, 9 CBS news in Los Angeles.