State warden thwarts water theft from Yuba River |

State warden thwarts water theft from Yuba River

Two men, one of whom was identified as a Nevada County resident, were caught by a state Fish and Wildlife warden over the weekend drawing water out of the Yuba River in Yuba County for what the officer said was likely irrigation of marijuana plants.

The men had backed up a truck with a 500-gallon to 1,000-gallon tank to the river just below the Parks Bar Bridge on Highway 20, said Sean Pirtle, the state warden for Yuba County.

Fish and Wildlife was alerted to the incident by a witness who reported that water was illegally being removed from the river.

“They had apparently done it on multiple occasions,” said Pirtle, who responded at about 10 a.m. Saturday.

Pirtle said he took the men’s names and will file a report with the Yuba County District Attorney’s Office requesting charges be filed. He said he will recommend misdemeanor charges of diverting water without a permit and theft of water.

The two men weren’t identified pending formal filing of charges, but Pirtle said one gave a Nevada County address and the other a Los Angeles address. Pirtle said they did not admit they were taking the water to irrigate a marijuana grow.

“But based on my experience it was for marijuana,” Pirtle said. “People don’t draft water for a tomato garden.”

An official for Yuba Patients Coalition, a pro-marijuana group challenging in court a new Yuba County ordinance banning outdoor marijuana growing, said that illegally taking water is an “unacceptable practice” and that such thefts should be prosecuted.

Though officials said they believe it’s not unusual for marijuana growers to take water from the Yuba River, Pirtle said it was the first time he had actually caught anyone doing it.

“I suspect it’s going on,” Pirtle said. “We just haven’t caught somebody in the act of doing it.”

Yuba County District Attorney Pat McGrath said Tuesday if the evidence is strong, his office will file charges.

“We haven’t received any referrals before, but we have put the word out that in situations where water is being stolen we would actively pursue it,” he said.

McGrath said it is especially an issue during the ongoing drought.

“If you run into folks that are stealing water, it’s a crime like anything else,” the district attorney said.

The victim in the water theft would be listed as the Yuba County Water Agency.

Agency manager Curt Aikens said he had heard stories about tanker trucks being seen backing up to the river.

“It’s pretty small quantity of water, but it’s the principle of the whole thing,” Aikens said. “It’s an illegal use and taking of water. My sense is we support enforcement. Otherwise, it sets a precedent.”

Pirtle said “there is still a lot of marijuana” in Yuba County. He said irrigating of plants is just one way marijuana grows harm the environment.

In Yuba County, he said, some growers have illegally killed wildlife and allowed pesticides to infiltrate water.

“There is habitat damage from stripping the land to grow marijuana,” he said. “We have had deer caught in marijuana fencing.”

Eric Vodden is a reporter for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat; he can be reached at 530-749-4769.

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