State warden thwarts water theft from Yuba River
Special to The Union
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.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
‘Doing more with less’: 2020 was a challenging year for law enforcement, though some bright spots exist, officials say
Almost no jury trials for an entire year. Increased domestic violence and homicides. And heightened social unrest and communal division that one police captain says he hasn’t seen in his 25-year career.