Pubdate: Wed, 05 Aug 2015
Source: Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)
Copyright: 2015 Appeal-Democrat
Author: Eric Vodden


A state Fish and Wildlife warden caught two men over the weekend 
drawing water out of the Yuba River for what the officer said was 
likely for irrigation of marijuana plants.

The men had backed up a truck with a 500- 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 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 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."
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