Despite California’s horrendous drought, water is still pretty cheap compared to say, buying bottled water at the grocery store. However, for those of us who need vast quantities of water for agricultural, industrial, and other commercial operations, those extra pennies per gallon start to add up in a big way. Thus, the latest rationing efforts by the State of California, have spawned a growing black market  for water.
Just a few weeks ago a 500 gallon water truck was stolen in broad daylight as it sat idling along the freeway in Oakland. The tanker was being used to hose down dust particles from a nearby construction project, when someone simply drove away with it, never to be seen again.
But what makes this case so interesting, is that the thief may not have been after the water inside the vehicle. Prices may be going up, but the value of 500 gallons is hardly worth the risk of being sent to jail for grand theft auto. In reality, the perp was likely after the vehicle itself for its ability to store large quantities of water. Such a crime suggests that water is becoming a hot commodity on the black market.
Still, dramatic capers like that are rare. The majority of water thefts are often perpetrated by ordinary citizens. The Daily Beast recently interviewed an employee with the East Bay Municipal Utility District, who noted:
“The drought is driving the price of water up and you’re starting to see people who are desperate for it willing to get it any way they can,” he said. He rattled off instances ranging from ripping off vacationing families to some going for broke and skimming from the local water source. “We’ve had situations in the past where people have stolen from their neighbor’s houses when they’re gone to some folks who didn’t want to pay for the water and dug under the street and tapped into the main line.”
Another case from Sacramento involved a rental truck manned by an unlicensed driver. He was stopped by the police as he attempted to siphon off water from a fire hydrant.
Cops immediately impounded the vehicle, which had already been pumped more than three-quarters filled with pirated water before city officials swooped in. “You have to have a permit to open up a hydrant and utilize the water,” Rhea Serran, a spokeswoman for the state capital city’s public utilities department, said. “It’s under investigation but we are still determining how much water may have been taken.”
So long as the drought continues to wreak havoc on the Western US, we can expect crimes like this to become commonplace. What’s so disturbing about these thefts though, is that you would expect to see them occur in a third world country or a post apocalyptic movie, not in bustling high-tech states like California.
But at the end of the day, water is the one resource none of us can go without. So it goes without saying that it doesn’t matter how wealthy or advanced our society may be. As soon as the water is tapped out, we’ll be on the path towards a third world status, and we can expect to see all the petty crimes that are associated with such a condition.