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Rogue contractors illegally take $100 in water at a time
A pavement contractors water truck stole water from a Manteca municipal fire hydrant at Yolo Street and Cowell Avenue at 1 p.m. on Thursday. - photo by DENNIS WYATT

Rogue contractors are stealing water from the City of Manteca.

A truck belonging to GHI Hedgecock  Paving of Modesto made an unauthorized connection to a city fire hydrant where Yolo Street dead ends just past Cowell Avenue on Thursday at 1 p.m. in the Powers Tract just west of the Spreckels Park BMX track.

Photos were taken of the driver filling a water truck. The use was illegal given they were not using a city-issued meter on the coupling device that would have recorded the amount of water they took and charged the company accordingly.

Public Works Director Mark Houghton said the value of water a typical truck can carry is around $100.

“It does happen a fair amount of time,” Houghton said. “Unless we can catch them in the act, we can’t do much about it.”

Houghton said a citizen taking a photo of illegal water thefts from fire hydrants, noting the time of the day and description of the truck and sending it to the city would provide necessary information to pursue the company for charges and fines associated with water theft.

Legal users typically draw from one fire hydrant and have a fairly obvious meter between the hydrant and hose coupling.

In the instance Thursday, the water truck drove out of the neighborhood toward a construction site passing more than a dozen fire hydrants.

“They (rogue contractors) typically look for remote fire hydrants,” Houghton said. “The (Powers Tract) location fits that criteria.”

The theft means all other water users including residents and businesses that pay their bills get stuck with absorbing the cost. The amount of water would have met the monthly needs of perhaps a half dozen or or so homes this time of year.

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Should be using recycled water

Houghton said the city is working on rules that would prevent any contractor from using fire hydrants to secure water for helping make soil more manageable to grade or for dust control even if they pay for it.

Instead the goal is to make contractors use recycled treated wastewater as a growing number of other cities require.

“We’re in a drought but it really doesn‘t make sense at any time to use drinking water for construction work,” Houghton said.

Other cities that require the use of recycled wastewater for construction proposes typically have purple hydrants placed outside of their wastewater treatment plants. All contactors are required to drive water trucks to that site to secure water. Some cities, to help offset the cost of traveling farther for water, don’t charge for the recycled water.

At least one city in Yolo County has gone as far as to make the recycled water available to farmers who are using water trucks to transport the water to their farms as they deal with dwindling water supplies due to the drought.

Houghton said an initial set  of city strategies to reduce water use that will go beyond limiting days and times for lawns to be watered, banning open hoses to wash cars, prohibiting water from flowing into gutters, and hosing down concrete areas such as sidewalks, patios, and driveways is expected to be presented to the Manteca City Council for consideration on April 7.

California is now in its fourth year of drought. 

The March 1 statewide survey showed the snowpack at 11 percent of normal for March 1 and at 13 percent of normal for the critical April 1 date. It was a tad better for March 1 on the Stanislaus River basin that is at 14 percent of normal but the April 1 percentage was worse coming in at 12 percent.